MLA Ronna-Rae Leonard Spoke about Childcare in the Legislature

Today, MLA Ronna-Rae Leonard spoke about childcare in the Legislature. You can watch the 2-part video here, or read the transcript below.


This past Friday I was wonderfully rejuvenated by a visit to a high-quality, affordable child care centre in Courtenay-Comox. Outside the over-threes were playing under the careful supervision of ECEs — that’s early childhood educators — and support staff. The kids were having a lot of fun, and there was lots of physical activity and lots of imagination.

Inside it was snack time for the infants and toddlers, and I was snuggling a giggling baby who was working on his snack, which was peas. He almost pulled my hair off. Another toddler, I learned, had just come off a feeding tube and was learning to eat food by mouth. He was relishing it. I was so impressed that this was a place where, through such a delicate transition, parents could leave their vulnerable child, leaving confident that they are well cared for and safe.

I compare that to my own experience with child care many decades ago. I had done some contract work at home while our first-born was an infant. Eventually I was ready to dive back into the workforce before I was obsolete in my field. I could only find a space in an unlicensed home daycare.

Now, parents don’t have to pass any test before they have kids, and we know that kids don’t arrive with instructions. But we do expect our children to be safe, to have their needs met and, yes, even to be nurtured when we leave them with a caregiver. When I learned my child had been spanked by her caregiver for a toileting accident, I felt that I had failed her. My trust in the caregiver was crushed, and with no other child care alternatives in sight, I decided to stay home and not risk our daughter’s safety and security.

Fortunately, I had a spouse, and I had a spouse who had a good unionized job. Though the budget was tight, we survived. That’s not everyone’s case. But years outside the workforce take their toll on a career. Not only was I not earning a paycheque or building up a pension, I was also losing confidence. Without a job, I wasn’t keeping up to date. And so, like many other mothers, I shifted into new endeavours, starting at the bottom once again. All because of a lack of safe, affordable, quality child care.

The state of the child care system in British Columbia has been…. Well, there’s been very little system. A poorly supported patchwork showed that child care was simply not a priority of the previous government. Instead of opening doors to see women being a part of a prosperous economy, the opposition critic has consistently stated that moms or dads should be 24-7 child care providers.

This sentiment bears out by the lack of supports for our child care system our government inherited. As the Minister of State for Child Care has noted, funding for providers was limited, subsidies for families were tough to access with low return, and there’s been a dire lack of affordable, quality child care spaces.

Our government has made child care a priority. We’re replacing a fragmented system that failed too many children and families and choked the full potential of our growing economy by keeping one parent, mostly mothers, out of the workforce and even on social assistance.

We’re replacing it with the robust, universal child care system, thanks to the dedicated work of the Minister of Children and Family Development and a minister of state who’s solely focused on child care. People are beginning to feel the positive effects of Childcare B.C.’s three-year, $1.3 billion plan. It is addressing education, recruitment and retention of early childhood educators with 620 more learning spaces and flexible learning schedules so workers can upgrade their skills while continuing to provide the child care that families so desperately need.

So far, 5,400 ECE bursaries have been provided, and 11,000 ECEs have had a wage lift. The plan is addressing costs with start-up grants for providers who move to become licensed. Licensing improves the quality of service, and families can feel more confident with enhanced safety and improved accountability from child care providers, something I could have used.

Capital grants to local governments and school boards, NGOs and private facilities are helping with upgrading and building more affordable spaces — over 10,400 approved to date.

The fee reduction initiative is benefiting up to 50,000 families, regardless of family income, and the affordable child care benefit helps families with incomes up to $111,000 a year. So 27,000 are paying $10 a day or less. Families with incomes of $45,000 are not having to pay anything at all.

Thirty-five percent of parents rely on relatives so they can go to work. The B.C. affordable child care benefit provides up to $394 per month when grannies and aunties, who don’t live in the child’s home, care for their children. Combined, the fee reduction and affordable child care benefit can save many families more than $19,000 per year.

Once upon a time long ago, I had the privilege of working for a non-profit on a project in partnership with the institute for health promotion research at UBC. We talked about the concept of diffusion of innovation. Innovation is not easily embraced by most people or institutions. One way to move toward universal adoption is to demonstrate advantages, tweak to fit unique circumstances and work out unintended consequences all by way of small pilot projects.

So it is how we are exploring universal, affordable child care, beginning with 2,500 spaces at prototype child care centres across our diverse province, where parents pay no more than $200 a month. We’re working towards the successful adoption of a universal child care system where everyone is a winner.

The child care centre I visited on Friday is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. It is now one of the prototype centres. After decades of struggle for support for the centre and for families, providers and families are liking the changes we’ve introduced in the last 2½ years.

Providing for accessible, affordable, quality child care is not a gift. Our government recognizes that it works to close the income inequality between men and women and open doors for tens of thousands of workers that will help to build a sustainable and prosperous British Columbia.