New childcare coming to Coquitlam & Port Coquitlam, but is it enough?

New money and new spaces are welcome, but one childcare advocate says it's not nearly enough as parents head back to work and are desperate for support.

Over 200 child care spaces are set to open across Coquitlam and Port Coquitlam as part of a provincial announcement to fund care in 34 communities throughout B.C.

In Coquitlam, 106 spaces will be created at Westwood Montessori, 40 at Kidscool Early Learning Centre and five at Mindful Kids Childcare. School District 43 will create a further 60 spaces at Port Coquitlam’s Irvine Elementary school’s The Learning Experience Children’s Centre Ltd. 

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It’s all part of the Childcare BC New Spaces Fund — launched two years ago this month — over 16,000 spaces new licensed child care spaces have been funded throughout the province, including 3,160 since March. 

Some of the most coveted spots stem from a pilot program held by families of roughly 35,000 children who are paying a $10 a day fee, a benchmark childcare advocates like Sharon Gregson have been pushing the government to embrace through their $10-a-Day campaign.

“These pilots are absolutely life-changing for people,” said Gregson. “I hear parents describe it say they can actually start paying off their credit cards, savings for the future and buying nutritious food.” 

The $10aDay plan calls on all levels of government to invest public dollars into school-based and non-profit run childcare facilities, something Gregson said the province has been working towards with significant investment over the last couple of years.

Gregson points to inequities in pay and cost as big flags why the government shouldn’t be investing in for-profit childcare providers.

“Now there’s a big push to have more public intervention in the long-term care centres,” she said, referring to the crisis in seniors homes made plain by the pandemic.

“In childcare, we have the added bonus of creating more spaces for people to go to work.”

But where Gregson applauds the province for its investment in childcare in municipalities like the Tri-Cities, when it comes to federal dollars, the numbers don’t add up, she said. 

NEW MONEY FROM FEDS

The federal government had its own announcement this week, unveiling $625 million in spending for childcare as the economy reopens. The money will be provided to provinces and territories to provide child care spaces, part of the $19 billion set aside by Ottawa for the country’s Safe Restart Agreement, Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion Carla Qualtrough announced Friday.

“Unless we have affordable, safe childcare, parents can’t go back to work, and to be quite frank, women can’t go back to work,” said the MP from Delta.

It’s not yet known how much of the total $625 million will be given to each province as that money is tied up as a little over 3% of a $19 billion spending plan.

In a Tweet Friday, federal Minister of Families, Children and Social Development Ahmed Hussen wrote that the “Safe Restart Agreement ensures all Canadian families will have access to the quality child care they need.”

But Gregson’s organization projects it would take $2.5 billion to achieve that, nowhere near the $625 million announced this week.

“That’s a joke,” said Gregson, of Hussen’s comment. “There’s no way that 3% of the funding is going to ensure all Canadians have access to childcare. At the start of the pandemic, we [in B.C.] only had enough spaces for about 20% of the kids. That hasn’t changed.”

She’s not the only one calling for increased funding. So far, roughly 20,000 people have signed a petition backing the $10aDay child care plan. A further 64 municipalities, 34 school districts and a long list of union and non-government organizations have passed resolutions or otherwise officially endorsed the plan. 

That includes SD43, the City of Port Moody and the City of Port Coquitlam Finance and Intergovernmental Committee.

“It’s significant,” said Gregson. “B.C. voted for this in the last election… It sends a message to the provincial government that this is a priority.”

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