Nannygate: time for a grown up conversation

News that two nannies have been hired out of the prime minister’s household budget produced the first real controversy of the new Liberal government… for all the wrong reasons.

Media and online discussion has ranged from the fundamental question of whether tax dollars should pay for the PM’s child care, to accusations of hypocrisy, to calls for a broader conversation about accessible and affordable child care options for all Canadians.

Should the taxpayers pay? (Yes)
The question of whether the cost of the nannies should come out of the public purse is central to this discussion. In fact, it’s the only important discussion we should be having.

The two women have been hired as “special assistants” under the Official Residences Act, which authorizes the employment of a steward or housekeeper to aid in the management of the prime minister’s residence. The act allows for the employment of a chef, maids, a gardener, and a chauffeur.

Other household expenses that fall under the act include “the purchase of food and other supplies required for the serving of food, for cleaning, laundering, and the ordinary maintenance of a residence, and for defraying other costs of official hospitality provided by the Prime Minister.”

It is worth noting that the residence of the leader of the Opposition is included under the act as well (although they are limited to three staff members).

Should child care be covered under these expenses? Yes. Child care is part of the cost of running a household and is a daily reality for any Canadian parent. Being prime minister (or the PM’s wife) is not a nine-to-five job. Taxpayers fund the salaries of the household staff in order to aid in the realities of the position. We pay for gardeners, chefs, and maids – even the $10-million repair costs for 24 Sussex.

To draw the line at child care is incredibly problematic, reflecting a broader lack of respect for the importance and work involved in child care.

Is it hypocritical? (No)
The hypocrisy argument is grounded in Trudeau’s vocal opposition of the Conservative’s Universal Child Care Benefit plan. During the election, Trudeau told Chatalaine magazine, “My family qualified for about $3,000, even though we’re doing very well and didn’t need it.” Trudeau has pledged to donate his family’s cheque to charity.

In an interview with CBC, Conservative minister Lisa Raitt called for Trudeau to pay for the nannies out of his own salary: “My kids were 7 and 4 when I started … I never used taxpayer dollars in order to look after the needs of my children, that was something that I have to do in order to have a household. We still made it work without taxpayer dollars.”

With a salary of $325,000 per year, the Trudeaus can certainly afford to pay out of pocket for child care. But why should they? The cost of the nannies comes from the household budget—it is part and parcel of being a prime minister with a young family.

Raitt shouldn’t have had “to make it work” — she should have been able to access affordable child care that was publicly funded. All should have access to publicly funded child care. None of us should be forced the make the decision become a stay-at-home mom because we can’t afford child care.

What is this really all about?
Our last prime minister’s household budget included a chef whose salary ranged from $61,000 to $72,000. Trudeau’s nannies will make between $23,000 and $43,000. Why are Canadians not outraged that the PM doesn’t cook for himself? Or doesn’t do his own gardening? Or drive himself around? Or pay for his own airfare to Paris?

The answer is that child care is seen as a private responsibility of families—specifically, women. There is an underlying criticism of Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau in the national discussion around this issue. After all, Grégoire-Trudeau doesn’t have a full-time job—shouldn’t it be her responsibility?

No, it shouldn’t be. Setting aside for a moment the fact that the role of a prime minister’s wife is extremely demanding, the assumption that she should take the lead on child care is steeped in outdated and paternalistic ideas of what constitutes “women’s work.”

The fact that we are having this conversation shows just how poorly child care is valued in this country.

Child care is undervalued, underfunded, and expensive
The average child care worker in Canada earns a mere $12.28 per hour. These are the individuals responsible for the health, safety, and education of our children—and they cannot afford to send their own children to day care.

Meanwhile, the cost of child care continues to rise, putting it out of reach for many people. This week, the CCPA will release a report on the cost of child care in Canada. The Greater Toronto Area (Canada’s most populous region) tops the list with the highest child care fees in the country. Cities in Quebec, which has a provincially funded child care program, are at the very bottom.

Canadians are forced to make hard choices. I know people who have decided not to have children because the costs are prohibitive. All too often, women are forced to quit their jobs or take many years out of the office because child care was too expensive.

This is the real scandal. These choices are nothing short of tragic and they should fill all Canadians with rage. We need a national strategy on child care — and we need it now. It’s not enough to simply give Canadians a cheque every month. We need more centres, more workers, and better paid workers.

As a society, we need to take collective responsibility for child care.


Davis Carr is a Communications Assistant with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives National Office and freelance community manager and graphic designer (and will postpone having children until she can afford daycare). Follow her on Twitter @ohhaidavis


  1. “Should the taxpayers pay?” NO
    “Is it hypocritical?” YES
    “hypocrite; A person who holds other people to higher standards than he holds himself.”
    The question is not about if the payment should or should not be made.
    The question is: Is it fair and honest exchange? To give up $3,000 in exchange of TWO nannies for free?
    This is the exchange of Child Care Benefit of $3,000 for child care at home worth $60,000 or more.
    No, it is not fair to any working Canadian with children for whom the only available benefit is child care expense deduction on their tax returns. Furthermore, if one parent chooses to work as a volunteer (representative travels for the First Lady) instead of regular employee they no longer qualify for that break.
    I really could use help during the worst part of my treatment but I couldn’t afford it and there was no break for me and I see hundreds of taxpayers in similar situation as a tax professional.
    Can Canada afford it?
    Of course Canada has no choice. I will pay for that starting with $2,000 Family Tax Cut that Trudeau promised to take away from my family. Because I’m not able to work full time, as a result of my health condition, and care for our home at the same time he assumed I don’t need it.
    Thank you very much, Mr. Trudeau. I’ll spread the word as far as I can, and because it is not only my profession but my passion I’ll be able to point out all of your tax tricks.

  2. A HUGE part of the problem is this>>Part of the problem is that jobs that have been traditionally done by women pay less than traditional male jobs. This is true “regardless of the value of the work to the employer or the consumer.” The more a job is considered ‘women’s work,’ the less it pays. Traditionally male-dominated trades deter women from entering them. The more a job is considered ‘women’s work,’ the less it pays. & this>Mothers who take parental leave face a consistent pay gap of three per cent for every year they did not work, for the rest of their lives. Finally, 8.1 per cent of women live in households with moderate or severe food insecurity. Lone parent households have the highest – 22.1 per cent – rate of food insecurity and 82 per cent are headed by women. Women face a gender wage gap. Women who work full-time earn about 71 cents for every dollar earned by men. as well as this>Recent studies show that the more children a woman has, the lower her hourly pay. For men, the opposite tendency applies. Men with children have higher hourly pay than men without children. The wage gap is small or non-existent for never-married men and women.12
    & this>. Among families with children, two-parent families had a median of $91,700, while female lone-parent families had a median of $25,000. Childcare, secretaries, care aides – anything deemed feminine is DEVALUED at every level!!!!

  3. You make some very good points about the Trudeau’s and the recent ‘controversy’ over the hiring of nannies.

    You also make some good points about child care. Having children or not having them is a personal choice, how many children a couple have is also a personal choice. So, how do intend to put in place a fair taxation system when some couples have no kids and other couples have 8 kids?

    Yes, yes .. it is the same old argument & answer about taxes and paying for publicly funded education – I know, but it is the crux of the matter and you have not addressed it. How about a tax credit for couples who do not have kids, after all their carbon footprint is dramatically smaller?

    Now, one last comment. My wife and I had three children, my wife chose to stay home and take care of our children. Fair enough, that was our choice… BUT why could I not claim a fair dollar value for child care expenses on my income taxes? If I had hired a friend’s wife to take care of the kids and he had hired my wife to do the same … then we each could have claimed expenses on our taxes, possibly illegal, but I have a valid point.

    Every time I read of someone trying to defend women’s rights by stating that child care should be subsidized or free – just like you have – I never see any mention of the fact that the society sees the stay at home parent’s time as worth zero dollars, that the stay at home parent is being taken advantage of and that their contribution is deemed to be insignificant by government, society and authors such as yourself!!!

    I am sick and tired of this narrow minded point of view that is still be put forth by supposedly forward thinking writers such as yourself. You think there is only one valid choice (day care) and that all woman place a higher importance on a fat paycheque and career, than on the care of their children!

    You wrote … “These choices are nothing short of tragic and they should fill all Canadians with rage. We need a national strategy on child care — and we need it now. It’s not enough to simply give Canadians a cheque every month. We need more centres, more workers, and better paid workers.”

    …. and what you have neglected to add is, we need to respect the choices made by all Canadians, including those Canadians who feel that it is THEIR OWN RESPONSIBILITY to raise their own children rather than place the children in an institution with strangers. And that, as a society, we need to take collective responsibility for child care, even when the it is the parents who are providing the child care.

    But let’s be perfectly clear, if child care is to be be publicly funded, then the funding must be available to ALL Canadians, for ALL the forms of child care that are available. Otherwise you are advocating institutionalized discrimination against parents (mostly woman) who decide that raising their children is a more worthwhile pursuit than going to a day job, yes, even if that job is writing articles for a Centre for Policy Alternatives.

    The tax based financial discrimination suffered by couples who choose to raise their own children puts me in a RAGE!!! And you know what? No one gives a Tinker’s Dam about this situation.

    I hope that I may have opened your eyes to an alternate reality that many Canadians live with!
    Amen Baby and All That

  4. I’m disappointed that an analyst from the Centre for Policy Alternatives should fall so easily for the “He’s not Harper so it’s all good” silliness that has dominated the mainstream media of late.

    There were more than two parties running in the last election. Perhaps you’ve heard of the New Democratic Party? Part of their platform was a realistic and achievable plan for affordable child care, not only for millionaire politicians, but for all Canadians. Mr. Trudeau and his party campaigned against that plan.

    My issue is not and never has been with the Prime Minister having publicly supported child care. My issue is with the hypocrisy of the Prime Minister having 100% publicly funded child care after having opposed the only realistic plan on off for affordable child care for everyone else.

    That is the hypocrisy.

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