‘Ottawa’ Army of Mom: Captain with 8 kids urges more child-care compensation for big families
It would be difficult to pick a more appropriate symbol to mark Mother’s Day than Kellie Brennan, a forty-something Canadian Army reservist.
Brennan has eight children, most of them young. They range in age from 16 months to 16 years. (Brennan is separated from her husband.)
On Sunday, she and her unusually large family gathered in Claudette Cain Park with Carleton member of Parliament Pierre Poilievre to promote a very specific agenda.
When Brennan’s work or training requires her to go out of town, the military reimburses her for child-care expenses at the rate of as much as $75 per day.
“This policy doesn’t take into account the number of children,” argued Poilievre, a Conservative MP. “I’ve written the ministers of defence and Treasury Board to ask them to update the policy to better accommodate single parents with large numbers of children.”
Neither Poilievre nor Brennan are making the case for reimbursements of $75 per day per child. “That would be unreasonably high,” Poilievre acknowledged. “Rather, I am asking the ministers to have their departments produce a formula that would augment the $75 per family allocation in cases where there are larger numbers of kids in the household.”
Brennan is seeking the assistance so that she can complete a training program — part of which takes place in Toronto and Kingston — to qualify for the rank of major, which pays more than her current designation of captain. The Montreal native is working in operations at army headquarters in downtown Ottawa. Brennan is a Class B reservist under a three-year contract that began last fall.
Unlike Class A reservists, Brennan works full time in the military. To make ends meet, she also works part time locally at a real estate sales agency.
Brennan is already training to become a major. The first part of the program isn’t a problem because it’s online. Starting at the end of August, however, she must travel back and forth from Toronto and Kingston for her classes. In total, Brennan estimates she’ll be away from Ottawa for roughly 40 days here and there through to mid-2017. This is when she’ll need help looking after her family.
Daycare would cost about $50 per day per toddler and pre-school kid. That doesn’t include costs Brennan will face for overnight care.
Poilievre said he’s already received a reply from one of the Liberal cabinet ministers he wrote. Nevertheless, it’s not clear how quickly the Liberal government can move on a file such as this. The child-care policy at the Department of National Defence takes its cue from government-wide regulations promoted by Treasury Board. Any change to take account of the circumstances facing Brennan could have unanticipated spillover effects.
On the face of it, adapting the per family child care formula shouldn’t be that onerous financially for government. After all, Brennan’s situation is most unusual. According to Statistics Canada, the percentage of households with five or more people had dropped to just 8.4 per cent in 2011. And lone-parent families were just 16 per cent of total households. In short, she represents a very tiny minority.
Brennan doesn’t seem the complaining type. “I prefer to try to fix things,” she said. “In the military we’re taught to go to the authority that can actually effect change.”
A couple of weeks after Poilievre knocked on her door as part of a regular canvass of constituents, Brennan texted her MP on Facebook. “I noticed that he was the opposition critic of Treasury Board president (Scott Brison),” she said, “and that’s where the authority lies for this rule.”
And if she doesn’t get her way? “I’ll work it out,” she said. “I always do.”