As Early Childhood Educator (ECE) students and childcare operators voiced their concerns to the mayor, Member of Parliament and Member of the Legislative Assembly at a meeting in Squamish, there were both tears and applause.
At the Jan. 14 meeting at the Squamish Public Library, MP Patrick Weiler, MLA Jordan Sturdy, and Mayor Karen Elliott joined District staff and Capilano University representatives to hear from a group of mostly ECE students and operators. More than 30 people attended.
There was much discussion about how all levels of government have a shared interest and play a role in finding solutions to the lack of childcare in the Sea to Sky. Key factors highlighted at the meeting were how the lack of ECE, low wages and lack of affordable housing intersect in Squamish.
"We live in the most unaffordable riding that's not in a downtown urban core in the entire country," Weiler said. "It's a reality. It's different than a lot of other places."
Julia Black, the co-ordinator for the ECE program at Capilano University said while the university is committed to returning to Squamish, they don't have a facility. The maximum capacity in the program is 30 students — 135 ECEs are said to be required to help fill the gap — but they hope to eventually build capacity for 1,500. In the meantime, the program just received a one-time top-up of funds for bursaries.
Other challenges ECEs and operators face are with the Temporary Foreign Worker Program ( TFWP ) and figuring out what credentials are recognized.
MLA Jordan Sturdy said recognizing foreign credentials is challenging. While he said they are trying to get the province to build a database of recognized institutions to streamline the process, it has not materialized. He acknowledged the competitive job market, particularly in Squamish, and how that might contribute to the transitory state of some ECE positions.
One Squamish daycare operator, Michelle Graye, spoke during the gathering and shared that she has had Squamish residents contact her, planning on getting pregnant in a year and preemptively filling out applications for childcare spots. She mentioned the struggles she faced due to the financial requirements and time it takes to complete a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) application for each foreign worker. The associated costs and high rent, she said, may put her toddler program in jeopardy.
When one woman at the presentation shared her experience getting her qualifications recognized in B.C. after moving from Ontario, Sturdy said he would be interested in hearing more about the inter-provincial perspective.
Sturdy also said the government is looking at a broad spectrum of childcare options including licensed, unlicensed and supporting parents staying home with their children. Ultimately, he said, the aspiration should be that childcare is an important part of the learning continuum and should be recognized as part of the education system.
Another person attending the meeting said that like herself, many other women in their 30s haven't been able to return to work — despite wanting to — after maternity leave because of the lack of childcare. This, she said, can mean the women lose out on opportunities in the workplace.
"It's more than just childcare," she said, to which much of the room applauded.
Mayor Karen Elliott said the District has seen this in their research.
"This is affecting women more than men, and women in the prime of their career who absolutely had aspirations to return to work and are being prevented from doing so because we have not," she indicated to the panel "at the senior level of government, invested in childcare. It is an equity issue."
Elliott went on to give her support to universal childcare.
"Lots of people have crunched the numbers to show that when you return women to the workforce, it pays for childcare and what it costs to fund universal childcare. So I'm going to continue to advocate in that direction," she said.
The day before, on Jan. 13, Premier John Horgan said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to continue the $10-a-day daycare program. Weiler couldn't say how many providers that would impact in Squamish.
ECE student Lindsay Kingston told the room that providers are tasked with the administration that comes with funding. She said ECEs workdays start and end after the average worker, caring for children during the day and then continuing admin work in the evening.
"You need to put more focus on the educators because they are stretched caring for the children and doing the administration and caring for the families. That's the bigger picture," Kingston said.
"No one wants to do this job because it sucks, and the people doing it are doing it because they love it."
The room applauded.
At the end of the meeting, Elliott asked those present to come forward with their ideas.
"Not all good ideas come out of council — they come from our community because people are living and breathing these things day in and day out," Elliott said, adding that the District of Squamish has lost some of its staff because they too can't find local childcare.