OTTAWA, Ontario, April 1, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Canadian Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff’s proposed national daycare fund unjustly discriminates against the majority of families, who don’t use daycares, says a prominent parents rights advocate.

Ignatieff announced Thursday that his party would invest $500-million per year in daycare, rising to $1 billion annually by the fourth year.

“It discriminates in favour of one form of child care, which is centre-based care,” said Helen Ward, president of Kids First Canada, and a low-income single mother with two children.

Ward’s organization advocates that the government take a neutral stand in terms of child care by supporting families directly, rather than institutions.  “Parental child care is a form of child care amongst all the others, and we need to be allowed to make these decisions without a coercive action by the state favouring one form,” she told LifeSiteNews.

Under Ignatieff’s plan, provinces and territories would be able to apply for funding to help in implementing provincial daycare programs.  “Our long-term goal is a high-quality, affordable early childhood learning and care space for every Canadian family that wants one,” said Ignatieff.

The Liberal leader argued that his plan promotes parental choice.  “Families don’t have choice in child care when there’s a shortage of high-quality, affordable child care spaces,” he explained.

Polls and studies have consistently shown that parents prefer to care for their own children, however.  A 2006 poll by the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada showed that over 80 percent of families preferred to have one parent stay at home with their children. When this was not feasible, the next preference was a relative, followed by a family daycare, and then non-profit and for-profit daycare.

According to Statistics Canada, in 2002-2003 only 14.9% of children aged six months to five years used daycare centres.

Ignatieff’s plan is cut back significantly from the nationalized daycare program put in place by Paul Martin’s Liberals, and later scrapped by Harper’s Conservatives.  Martin had claimed his program would cost $5 billion per annum, though critics argued it would be closer to $16 billion.

Ignatieff has also promised to continue the Conservatives’ Universal Child Care Benefit, which provides families with $100 per month for every child under six.  He proposes to fund the daycare plan by raising corporate taxes.

Ward questioned Ignatieff’s claim that the plan would create more daycare spaces, pointing out that Martin’s program allowed provinces to use the money for a variety of things, including staff training, facility maintenance, and increasing wages.

She also pointed out that institutional child care is more expensive than other forms, and studies show worse outcomes for the children – including higher instances of sickness and more behavioural concerns such as aggression and disobedience.

“Why are we funding that preferentially?” she asked.

The Institute of Marriage and Family Canada called the proposal a “step backwards for families.  Andrea Mrozek, manager of research and communications, said her organization “stands in favour of funding for parents, not provinces.”

“Funding for provincial bureaucracies actually takes choice away from parents who do not choose to use the system on offer,” she explained.  “Parents will always spend money more efficiently than government bureaucracies. This is really a preferential form of funding for only one type of care from which many Canadian families will not benefit.”