OTTAWA - "Friends, our opponents have been clear. They would take away the Universal Child Care Benefit. They've said so on many occasions." — Prime Minister Stephen Harper in a speech Sunday prior to the resumption of the House of Commons.
With the House of Commons returning this week from a five-week break, Prime Minister Stephen Harper set the stage for the 2015 federal election year with a speech to hundreds of supporters Sunday at a suburban Ottawa high school.
The Conservative government rolled out a pricey package of family tax breaks last October that included income splitting for stay-at-home spouses, a boost to the monthly Universal Child Care Benefit that's been in place since 2006, and a new monthly benefit for children aged 6-17.
New Democrats and Liberals have sharply attacked the income-splitting plan, which will cost the federal treasury more than $2 billion a year and will impact only about 15 per cent of families.
However the Conservative move to augment the Universal Child Care Benefit cheque has not generated the same degree of opposition scrutiny or criticism.
So when Harper says the NDP and Liberals would eliminate the benefit — and have said so "on many occasions" — just how accurate is the prime minister's assertion?
Spoiler alert: The Canadian Press Baloney Meter is a dispassionate examination of political statements culminating in a ranking of accuracy on a scale of "no baloney" to "full of baloney" (complete methodology below).
This one earns a rating of "full of baloney" — the statement is completely inaccurate. Here's why.
The Universal Child Care Benefit was one of the defining, differentiating policies of the Harper Conservatives when they first came to power early in 2006.
While the Liberals and New Democrats were promising universal, government-funded day care, the Conservatives said they'd put cheques directly in parents' pockets each month.
During that 2006 election campaign, a senior spokesman for incumbent Liberal prime minister Paul Martin publicly derided the proposed $100 monthly stipend as cash parents would "blow on beer and popcorn" — not a realistic child care plan. The comment was insulting to parents and a significant gaffe in the Liberals' re-election effort.
Once the popular child care benefit cheques were in place, neither the Liberals nor the NDP made subsequent campaign commitments to rescind them during the 2008 or 2011 general elections. In fact, the NDP twice proposed expanding the benefit in its platforms.
Nor has the Universal Child Care Benefit been a matter of significant policy debate in the House of Commons in the ensuing years of Conservative rule. An online search of Commons and committee debates going back to 2010 turned up opposition MPs questioning whether the benefit was adequate in value, but not proposing its elimination.
In October, Finance Minister Joe Oliver announced the government is eliminating the Child Tax Credit and replacing it with larger monthly Universal Child Care Benefit cheques, adding $60 to the monthly $100 cheque for kids under six and creating a new $60 benefit for children between ages six and 17.
WHAT THEY SAY
The Canadian Press contacted the Prime Minister's Office and the offices of Thomas Mulcair and Justin Trudeau about Harper's claim.
Harper spokesman Jason MacDonald noted the Liberals and NDP opposed the child benefit plan nine years ago when the Conservatives first proposed it.
And he said MPs from both parties voted against a ways and means motion in Parliament last Nov. 4 that brought in the new family income-splitting tax plan (which both parties loudly oppose) along with the increased child benefit cheques.
The PMO also cited: NDP concerns about 2010 budget changes to UCCB beneficiaries; a partial comment on the benefit's value by Nathan Cullen during the NDP leadership race of 2011; and a letter some NDP MPs sent to a government minister in 2007.
MacDonald was unable to cite any opposition MP calling for the elimination of the Universal Child Care Benefit.
Last October — before the Conservative family tax plan was revealed — the New Democrats announced their proposal for $15-a-day daycare, but said they'd maintain the Universal Child Care Benefit.
That stance didn't change after the Conservatives enhanced the benefit.
"Let there be no doubt, we'll keep the recent additions to the child care benefit," Mulcair told his MPs in a speech on Jan. 15 — 10 days before Harper claimed otherwise.
The Liberals have been less clear.
Leader Justin Trudeau was asked directly in a Business News Network interview last Nov. 19 whether he would keep the Conservatives' enhanced Universal Child Care Benefit.
"There are pieces in their proposal that are interesting and helpful," Trudeau responded, before panning the income-splitting part of the plan.
Pressed on whether he would rescind the UCCB, Trudeau would only say that as prime minister he'd kill family income splitting.
It is worth noting that at the Liberal party policy convention last February in Montreal, delegates adopted a workshop resolution calling for a national strategy on universal early childhood education and care.
That resolution included "re-investing the $1,200 per year from the Universal Child Care Benefit into the Canadian Child Tax Benefit and directing the credit to the parent who remains at home."
A spokeswoman for Trudeau says resolutions passed at the convention are non-binding and not necessarily part of the next Liberal election platform.
"Our focus is on reversing Stephen Harper's $2,000 tax break for the wealthy," said Kate Purchase in an email. "We support anything that provides support for the middle-class, but we're going to continue to discuss with Canadians the UCCB changes."
Mulcair of the NDP has clearly and repeatedly stated he will not eliminate the Universal Child Care Benefit.
Delegates to a Liberal policy convention last year proposed retooling the UCCB as part of a broader tax credit that the Conservatives have now eliminated, but Trudeau has not publicly endorsed the plan and has said only that he would rescind the government's family income-splitting plan.
The Prime Minister's Office did not provide any evidence of Liberal or NDP MPs calling for the end of the UCCB.
For these reasons, Harper's claim that his political opponents have repeatedly promised to get rid of the child care benefit is "full of baloney."
The Baloney Meter is a project of The Canadian Press that examines the level of accuracy in statements made by politicians. Each claim is researched and assigned a rating based on the following scale:
No baloney — the statement is completely accurate
A little baloney — the statement is mostly accurate but more information is required
Some baloney — the statement is partly accurate but important details are missing
A lot of baloney — the statement is mostly inaccurate but contains elements of truth
Full of baloney — the statement is completely inaccurate
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