Focus on families in election campaign an encouraging sign

By 
  • April 12, 2011
This  election  campaign, political parties are offering a variety of  incentives for  middle-class families. (Photo courtesy of  iStockphoto.com)OTTAWA - Pro-family groups are delighted to see a focus on family issues in the election campaign platforms of all three national parties.

But some social conservative leaders have expressed disappointment that Stephen Harper refuses to reopen the debate on abortion or marriage even if the Conservatives win a majority.

Past elections have seen the “odd snippet” of platform policy directed at family issues so it’s encouraging to see the major parties addressing family matters in this campaign, said Institute of Marriage and Family Canada (IMFC) executive director Dave Quist.

“It’s good,” he said. “It’s time they looked at the foundation of our society and that is the family.

“We may disagree on the solutions, that is what democracy is all about, but it’s important that we be discussing these things.”

Citizens for Public Justice (CPJ) executive director Joe Gunn noted the parties are all directing attention to middle-class families.

“The ridings that seem to be the most contentious ones are in the suburban ridings of middle-class families in Canada,” he said.

But “chasing after the middle” means that Harper is unwilling to reopen the abortion debate, said Joseph Ben-Ami, president of the Canadian Centre for Policy Studies. “I’m at a loss to understand the strategy,” he said

Others who represent socially conservative voters believe Harper is taking a realistic stance.

“He doesn’t believe it’s a winner or otherwise he would be advocating a strong pro-life position,” said Campaign Life Coalition president Jim Hughes.

REAL Women of Canada national vice president Gwendolyn Landolt said Harper’s position is “disappointing” but “understandable.”

To attract the middle-class vote, parties are offering everything from income-splitting to tax cuts and credits to child care programs to home care support for the elderly.

“They’re trying to pick up the vast majority of middle-class people,” said Landolt.

The Conservative promise of income-splitting, to allow a single-income family to split income for tax purposes with a partner, is a program advocated by REAL Women and IMFC for years. But it is opposed by CPJ.

“Our main priority is a poverty-reduction plan for Canada,” said Gunn. “It’s hard to see how income-splitting has much to do with that agenda. The people who get the largest benefit are the people with the largest incomes.”

Gunn favours the development of a national early learning and child care program, something both the Liberals and the NDP advocate. He wants it targeted towards groups most likely to live in poverty: single parents, newcomers to Canada and aboriginal communities.

But the groups that support income-splitting oppose a national early learning and child care program.

“Our research doesn’t support a national child care program,” Quist said. “It’s an expensive program and it eliminates choice from many parents. Parents would rather take care of their children themselves if at all possible.”

All three parties have put forward different ways of supporting the sandwich generation of middle-aged couples taking care of their own parents with dependent children still living at home.

“Each of their versions is worthy of some consideration, looking at different pieces,” Quist said.

The possibility of a coalition formed by the current opposition parties is an unsettling prospect for the pro-life cause, many agree. Landolt said a coalition would be “an inevitable disaster for everything pro-life and pro-family.”

“It scares the heck out of me, because it includes the Bloc,” Hughes said.

“The Bloc is not a friend of anybody in the life and family movement.”

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