Taunting the daycare police

18. Actualité archives 2006

As a stickler for the rule of law I believe that you should work to change legislation you don't like or, at the outside limit, be prepared to face the full legal consequences of any civil disobedience. But in the case of Quebec's new nitpicking regulations on the daycare business, I'm cheering on the folks who are cleverly finding ways around the government's spectacularly stupid scheme.
As you know, one of the things that officially makes Quebec such a wonderful place is that it has universal subsidized daycare system that costs those lucky enough to find a place before the little nipper turns six just $7 a day in fees (it also clobbers everyone through their tax bill). Of course $7 isn't enough. But what price solidarity? So starting today, daycare operators across the province will not be allowed to “extra-bill” parents even if they want to pay extra so their little ones can benefit from enriched educational programs. The only exceptions will be for meals that aren't covered by the basic services, fees for educational outings (visits to the museum, the farm, etc.) and extra personal items such as sunscreen or diapers. And that's it.
Unless, of course, you fail to pick up your child on time. For the $7 maximum fee covers a maximum of 10 hours a day and not one minute more. So now parents who are occasionally tardy, for instance because they're held up in traffic jams, will face stiff “late fees” of as much as $2 a minute. So daycare centres can't charge extra to accommodate parents but can charge extra not to. Why isn't it surprising that government encourages this sort of customer “service”?
As you can probably guess, the province is overrun with unhappy daycare operators and grumpy parents. Trying to prevent people from buying what they think their children need is never a good idea. Folks care a lot more about their kids than about anything else, including how much money they've got left in their bank accounts.
Which is why soothing words from Family Minister Carole Théberge about how government subsidies plus the parents' out-of-pocket $7 a day should be enough to offer “complete” education services to children are particularly anti-useful. Since many parents clearly already don't think so, this amounts to calling them stupid, adding insult to injury. (A surprisingly common political strategy.)
Neither do daycare providers enjoy being told, in very minute detail, how to run their business. If they believe there's a market for specialized, elaborate and expensive daycare services, they should be free to provide them. Which is why private operators have recently gone to the Quebec Superior Court challenging the new regulation. As Association des garderies privées du Québec lawyer Julius Grey explained, “We have to point out the absolute absurdity of a prohibition on additional (paid) educational activities”.
Other operators, such as the Mad Science Group, are finding clever ways to circumvent the government's provisions. The group, which operates four private daycare centres in the Montreal area but is not a member of the Association des garderies privées, has set up a different company that does nothing but provide specialized enriched services, like cooking classes, taebo and English lessons, for an extra $6 a day. Parents who want their child enrolled in the enriched program will have to send their cheque to this separate company, not the daycare centre.
The operators aren't shy about explaining why they have to go about running their business in such a devious way. In a letter to parents that was leaked to the media, operator Angie Langlois plainly says the new regulations prevent centres from maintaining existing enriched services and that's why the new company has been set up separately. Another Quebec City daycare centre makes parents pay independent teachers and instructors directly.
Government officials are taking a dim view of such arrangements. It's not clear whether or not operators will be able to get away with it. Ms. Théberge went so far as to threaten recalcitrant operators with punitive measures such as yanking their subsidies. “We will apply the regulation,” she told reporters. Or, as she said earlier this summer, “What we have is a $7/day daycare system. And it's $7, nothing more”. And Monday's papers quoted her asking daycare operators to refrain from “pulling on parents' heartstrings” to extract more money out of them.
Under normal circumstances I'd be tempted to side with the government, because of the basic legal principle that you're not allowed to do indirectly what the law directly forbids. But I'm happy to see people work around this rule.
It's just too stupid to stand.

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