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Howard Anglin: There’s more to life than politics

Commentary

The saintly editors here at The Hub have agreed to my request to produce one of my two monthly articles for the site as a monthly transatlantic diary. For those readers not familiar with the format, which is more common in British journalism, the diary is a grab bag of short items, sometimes on a common theme, but often not. In my case, what they have in common is that they are either too inconsequential to merit a full article or I can’t be bothered to come up with more than a knee-jerk reaction or a flip comment. This is August.

With apologies to Eliot, August is the cruellest month. It arrives so carelessly that you hardly notice the calendar has turned. Fall is still so far away and out of mind that the months seem to run together in one endless summer. Then just as you’ve exhaled and let down your guard, September is right smack in your face, throwing a long shadow across your days. After that there is a crispness in the evenings that wasn’t there before. In most of Canada, only the first two, or at most three, weeks of August are really summer. After that it is just a countdown to Labour Day and the return of responsibility. August is a con.

* * * 

I spent most of the month Victoria, in a house a few minutes from where I grew up. I once tried to write about this neighbourhood, and specifically the maze of lanes between the houses. I wasn’t happy with result—too precious; too contrived—so I never published it, but I have been drawn again to the cool shade of the Oak Bay lanes by the August heat. 

In that unpublished piece, I wrote that to travel by lanes is to see the world from an unexpected angle, somewhere behind or within it. The backs of houses are where children play unsupervised and intimate laundry hangs unattended. Lanes are part of an older way of life when the line between public and private was not clear, when everyone knew everyone’s business and no one came or went unseen. 

As roads were paved and widened, lanes were left over as the forgotten paths between the lines on the map. They became associated with rural backwardness. The town of Lowick, George Eliot assures us in Middlemarch, “was not a parish of muddy lanes and poor tenants.” 

Exactly a century later, Larkin included lanes among the endangered properties of the vanishing English countryside. His poem “Going, Going” was commissioned as a verse prologue to a 1972 U.K. government report on the human habitat called “How do you want to live?” The poem predicts a future England as the “First slum of Europe,” paved over and bricked in by developers with “spectacled grins.” 

And that will be England gone,

The shadows, the meadows, the lanes,

The guildhalls, the carved choirs.

There’ll be books; it will linger on

In galleries; but all that remains

For us will be concrete and tyres.

Those British motorways, like the varicose highways expanding around Toronto as the bloated megacity strains at its greenbelt, are a new kind of lane fit for an age of speed. Bus lanes, bike lanes, slow lanes, and fast lanes, HOV lanes, change lanes, stay in your lane.

These new lanes are really anti-lanes. Not gentle paths between places but ribbons of asphalt laid out mechanically side by side by side, racing stripes impelling us across the country. Modern lanes are not worn by use over time. Lanes are now infrastructure, planned and plotted, the stuff of municipal budgets and federal grants, of deals between cities and the developers who run them. James Kunstler diagnosed the problem 30 years ago in The Geography of Nowhere. At the time, everyone nodded thoughtfully…and then went right on building more concrete sprawl enmeshed in more concrete highways.

The lanes of my childhood were decidedly of the older kind, pitted gravel tracks with selvages crumbling into long grass. They were out of sight and mostly out of mind, private places where we rode fast side by side, not watching for cars. In the summer we left white dust clouds behind us, and when it rained after a dry month the fine powder dust swallowed fat raindrops, releasing a perfume of grass clippings and sweet gasoline.

* * * 

Not much has changed in Oak Bay since then, but I have noticed that the little houses where middle-class families and retirees used to live are slowly being replaced by larger modern units. Peaked roofs and gables are out of fashion; square lines and flat roofs are in. Done well with quality wood or stone, the modern style can be attractive. Unfortunately, most of the new houses are not—expensive, yes; tasteful, no. One by one the graceful curve of my seaside road is being lined by square boxes, like a street drawn by a particularly unimaginative or dull child. At least there are no tall condos, yet, but I imagine they are coming. They are certainly sprouting up downtown at a worrying pace.

* * *

One of the best things about being back in Oak Bay is the near total absence of politics. Compared to Alberta, where anger at Ottawa has defined provincial politics since at least the first Trudeau, British Columbians’ attitude towards Ottawa is a mix of indifference and ignorance. The Rocky Mountains are a powerful psychological barrier, and anything that does make it over the Rockies drowns in the Salish Sea before it reaches us. If Vancouver is Lotus Land, as Allan Fotheringham dubbed it, then Oak Bay is the Shire: a lush suburban haven happily oblivious to rumours of the outside world. Even local politics is almost non-existent—the mayor ran unopposed in 2022 and the most contentious issue in the two elections before that was the local deer cull. Don’t get me wrong: there is value in active civic politics, but quiescence has its benefits too. And as I try to milk what comfort I can from the last complacent days of August, I know which I prefer.

Rahim Mohamed: Yes, $10-a-day child care is unfair. Here’s what provinces can do about it

Commentary

There are precious few things everyone can agree on these days, but $10-a-day child care appears to be one of them.

As The Hub’s Geoff Russ wrote last month, the Liberal plan for Canada-wide $10-a-day child care is here to stay after legislation enshrining the program was adopted unanimously by the House of Commons.

“With a single vote… the Conservative Party seemed to end two decades of opposition to a national child care program,” wrote Russ. Russ noted that repealing national child care is no longer a “credible” option for Conservatives. 

With $10-a-day child care all but inevitable, provincial governments would be well advised to study the documented shortcomings of the universal, flat-fee model of child care and plan accordingly.

Quebec’s universal child care program, which has been a fixture in La Belle province for the past quarter century, has dominated the national conversation on child care. While the program has its strengths, it has also drawn widespread criticism for perpetuating disparities in access to quality child care along socioeconomic lines. A recent audit conducted by the province’s auditor general found that nearly half of children enrolled in Montreal’s highly coveted Centres de la Petite Enfance (CPEs) came from households making $200,000 per year or more. The same study found that there was one CPE space for every three eligible children in the tony neighbourhood of Westmount and just one space for every seven children in the working-class borough of Montréal-Nord.

Less well-studied has been British Columbia’s half-decade-long experiment with $10-a-day child care. B.C. launched the first pilot study of the program in the fall of 2018 and, since then, has opened over 12,700 $10-a-day spaces, accounting for roughly ten percent of all regulated child care spaces in the province. This gives B.C. a sizeable head-start over most other provinces.

Unfortunately, there are already signs that B.C. is falling into the same equity trap as Quebec. 

How $10-a-day child care works in B.C.

B.C.’s Ministry of Education and Child Care presides over a network of some 267 $10-a-day ChildcareBC centres. Nine in 10 centres in the network are administered by either non-profit groups or public institutions (i.e.: schools and universities). On average, each centre serves roughly 50 children.

Licensed child care operators apply directly to the Ministry to become $10-a-day centres. Successful applicants receive funding from the Province to cover operating expenses, minus the $10-a-day parental fee collected by the centre itself. The Ministry received more than 600 applications during the 2021-22 expansion of the program, approving just a handful.

Where are $10-a-day centres located?

One glance at the current list of $10-a-day centres reveals clear regional disparities in where centres are located. Notably, Vancouver is home to more than five times the number of centres as Surrey, despite the latter having a larger population of eligible children. Heck, even the province’s capital city of Victoria has more centres than Surrey, despite having one-tenth the number of children. (I guess the province’s politicians and bureaucrats need somewhere to park their brats during the workday). 

Graphic credit: Janice Nelson

Combined, the Vancouver Coastal and Vancouver Island regions are home to over half of B.C.’s $10-a-day centres, despite making up just forty percent of the province’s population. Meanwhile, the heavily populated Fraser Valley boasts just two centres for every 100,000 residents. 

Graphic credit: Janice Nelson

The Ministry of Education and Child Care has acknowledged this problem and has stated it will prioritize communities with a “low proportion of $10-a-day spaces compared to population density” in future application cycles. Whether it will follow through on this promise remains to be seen.

Are $ 10-a-day centres concentrated in rich neighbourhoods?

The good news is that, based on neighbourhood-level data I collected from Vancouver, there’s little evidence of an income-based disparity in access to $10-a-day child care. There is, in fact, a negative correlation between neighbourhood median income and $10-a-day child care spaces. This relationship maintains statistical significance even when Vancouver’s troubled Downtown Eastside (DTES) is dropped from the sample of neighbourhoods. On average, each $10,000 drop in neighbourhood income is associated with 26.5 additional spaces (figure excludes DTES).

Graphic credit: Janice Nelson

This is not to say that the distribution of spaces across Vancouver is totally equitable. The two parts of the city with the highest concentration of spaces are the downtown business district and the University of British Columbia endowment lands (both are home to 14 $10-a-day centres). Together, these two areas soak up four-in-10 of the city’s $10-a-day spaces.

Given Quebec’s experience, it’s not surprising to see centres cluster in parts of the city with high concentrations of white-collar professionals (e.g.: office workers, university faculty). This indicates that, barring offsetting social policies, relatively well-off urban professionals are the group most likely to benefit from the Canada-wide rollout of $10-a-day child care.

What can provincial governments do about this?

With Canada-wide $10-a-day child care now a fait accompli, provincial governments should act now to pre-empt the likely regressive effects of the program. Policymakers should accordingly consider adopting the following policies:

  • Cash subsidies for alternative care in regions with low concentrations of $10-a-day centres: As B.C.’s experience indicates, there are likely to be marked regional disparities in the rollout of $10-a-day child care. It could take years for these disparities to balance out. In the meantime, provincial authorities should offer cash to subsidize alternative child-care arrangements (e.g.: at-home care, relative care) in underserved areas.
  • Reserve a quota of spaces for 24-hour centres and centres located in low population-density areas: White-collar urban professionals who work conventional nine-to-five schedules shouldn’t be the only parents to benefit from $10-a-day child care. Policymakers should keep the needs of parents with irregular work schedules, as well as those who live outside of urban cores, in mind when choosing where to open new $10-a-day sites.