A new report by Canada's parliamentary budget officer shows more than half of the money Ottawa intends to put toward child care this year will go to families with little or no child-care expenses.
The PBO used a Statistics Canada database that incorporates tax data and information from other government sources to crunch the numbers on the federal government's universal child care benefit (UCCB) and child care expense deduction (CCED).
The UCCB is a monthly payment to families with children. Brought in by the Conservatives in 2006, it originally paid out $100 a month until the child reached the age of six. This year, the government is extending that payment to $160 a month for children under six and $60 a month thereafter until age 17.
The child care expense deduction is an income-tax deduction for child-care expenses that was first introduced in 1971.
With the changes being brought in by the government this year, the PBO says the cost of the two programs will rise to $7.7 billion from the current price tag of $3.3 billion. The PBO estimates that figure will rise to $7.9 billion by 2017-2018.
According to the PBO report, families with young children who are paying for childcare will receive 49 per cent of those benefits this year. The remaining 51 per cent will go to families with no child-care expenses or families with older children.
The PBO includes in the latter figure families with children over the age of 13 as well as families with a stay-at-home parent or some other form of unpaid childcare.
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The PBO says the two programs combined cover roughly 67 per cent of what families with young children spend on childcare. Conversely, it finds families with older children stand to receive nearly eight times the amount they spend on caring for their offspring.
"When you take into account the enrichment, almost 50 per cent of the overall package goes to families who have children older than 13, which means that it's very unlikely they have any child-care expenses," said Mostafa Askari, assistant parliamentary budget officer, as he released Tuesday's report.
"That's the reality of the policy."
Opposition New Democrats have pledged to maintain the monthly payments to families while at the same time creating a national subsidized daycare program. In question period Tuesday, NDP Leader Tom Mulcair attacked the current programs, saying they have done nothing to create new daycare spaces.
"With the NDP, quality, affordable, $15-a-day childcare is one election away," Mulcair said to a chorus of cheers from his MPs.
The applause was just as loud from the government benches when Prime Minister Stephen Harper pointed out transfers to families have risen steadily under his government before adding a shot at the NDP.
"I know that the NDP is strongly opposed to anything that gives money to people as opposed to taking it for government or for bureaucracy," Harper said.
Support for families or 'vote-buying?'
Speaking on the CBC News Network's Power & Politics, Candice Bergen, the federal minister of state for social development, echoed the prime minister's defence of the government's programs.
Bergen said there is nothing wrong with the government offering support not only to stay-at-home parents but to families with older children who may no longer require daycare.
"You ask any family with kids, they are spending money. Even if those kids are between the ages of seven and 18, they are absolutely spending money on those children," Bergen said.
The NDP's Nathan Cullen said if the government wants to help all families, regardless of whether they pay for child care, it should call its program something else.
"If you want to just broadly sweep all rich families, poor families all into one package, then just say this is for families," Cullen said.
"If you want say this is for child care, then do child care. I don't know why that's such a hard expectation."
Liberal MP Scott Brison was more critical.
"This is about vote-buying on the eve of an election. That's what the Conservatives are doing with this," Brison said.