No, that’s not an election flyer in your mailbox. But you’d be forgiven for thinking so.
In what’s billed as the biggest one-time benefit payout in federal history, a windfall worth almost $3 billion is being mailed out Monday as the Conservative government hikes the universal child care benefit just three months before an election.
The increased payments are retroactive to the start of the year, meaning the payments this month will be higher than any before: Up to $520 for children under six, and up to $420 for every child six to 17.
That’s just fine to Antoinette Grech, a London single mother who says she will use the money to help pay for before-school care for her eight-year-old son, Westonn Grech-Malito.
“Any bit helps because it costs so much to raise children,” said Grech, a high school teacher who starts her day early and also puts her son in swimming lessons, camp and soccer.
Until now, Grech was out of luck.
That’s because the universal child care benefit (UCCB), begun in 2006, was only for kids under age six.
But the enhanced benefit is not only increasing payments for kids that age to $160 a month from $100, but adding $60 a month for every child between the ages of six to 17.
The government announced that move in 2014, but it’s taken on new life now in the election run-up.
Most of the benefit is likely to hit suburban voters in federal ridings in Alberta and the all-important seats that surround Toronto, a Canadian Press analysis suggests.
Those ridings usually have a history of tilting Tory.
In London, an estimated 2,500 families were among 200,000 nationwide that hadn’t registered for the new benefit, causing Ottawa to extend the deadline to apply to mid-May.
One political observer said it’s hard to escape the election-year politics.
“I can say that the increase in UCCB, and especially the retroactive aspect of it, which would result in a lump sum of money to families in July, does seem like a way of appealing to voters ahead of the election,” said Carolina de Miguel Moyer, a political scientist at the University of Toronto.
What low- and middle-income families “desperately need” is affordable child care, rather than cheques, she said. “But having cash in hand, as opposed to an electoral promise of universal child care, might seem more appealing to them as election time approaches.”
Opposition parties have criticized the government for giving out the increased payments, backdated to the start of 2015, as an election ploy to buy votes. But all three main parties have platform planks designed to woo families who tend to concentrate in key suburban ridings that could swing the federal election.
“The demographic that (parties) are all fighting for are the parents, the kids, the families that are just starting out. So this is why this puts (child care) up on the agenda,” said Kathy Brock, an expert on party politics from Queen’s University.
MP Susan Truppe (Cons. — London North Centre) said the government is letting “moms and dads decide where they want to put their children by putting the money in their hands.
The NDP want to keep the universal child care benefit, but eventually spend $5 billion a year for a universal daycare system. The Liberals want to replace the benefit with a larger income-tested benefit payment that would require Justin Trudeau to find $2 billion to make it happen.
Parents across Canada paying a wide range of fees for child care, from a low of $152 a month in Quebec under its provincial program to a high of $1,676 in Toronto, according to Statistics Canada.
What the Tories are offering doesn’t come close to the true tab for child care, said MP Irene Mathyssen (NDP — London-Fanshawe).
“Throwing money around in desperation because we are in election mode, I think that Londoners and Canadians are much, much too cagey not to have noticed,” she said.
Grech said she may be more likely to vote “with someone that is more inclined to helping parents and children.”
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UNIVERSAL CHILD CARE BENEFIT
Introduced in 2006; $23 billion spent on since
Increases start July 20, retroactive to Jan. 1
Kids under six: $160 a month, up from $100
Kids six to 17: New $60 monthly payments
Annual bottom line: Child under six, $1,920; six to 17, $720