In 2011, Camie Pohl’s dream of becoming a mother came true. On a hot summer morning, the Save-On-Foods clerk gave birth to a healthy baby girl, Scotlyn. Camie’s journey to motherhood had been long and complex, but possible thanks to her union membership. “I was beyond grateful that my medical benefits covered my fertility treatments. I would not have been able to afford it otherwise!”
As challenging as it was to conceive her daughter, however, finding child care for her was almost more daunting. “When Scotlyn was three months old, I started making arrangements for child care. I called every child care provider in Kelowna. Most never even bothered to call me back. The few who did laughed at me for not calling sooner,” she explains. “I was a first time mom with only three months experience. Child care seemed impossible to attain.”
Sammi Stewart, a manager at the Starbucks in the Burquitlam Safeway Extra, had a similar experience. After giving birth to her son, Jackson in 2018, she began researching daycares. “It was pretty hard because everything I found had at least a one-year waitlist.” In the end, with her maternity leave drawing to a close, Sammi had to cobble together a solution: two different daycares and homecare provided by her grandmother.
Until recently, finding safe, dependable, affordable child care in British Columbia was a crap shoot. During the 16-year reign of the provincial Liberals, there was only meagre investment in child care: spaces were scarce; wait lists extended into the years; and would-be parents were advised to put their names on lists as soon as they became pregnant, or sooner.
Women who could not find child care often had no option but to leave the workforce. Those who did manage to find a space faced exorbitant fees and in some cases, an untenable choice: pay most of their wage toward child care or give up their careers. “I have a couple of friends who just stayed home,” explains Sammi. “They left their jobs because they couldn’t find daycare.”
In the worst case scenario, those unable to give up their income have been forced to place their children in unlicensed daycares and other unregulated but less costly options. Camie recalls her fruitless search for licensed child care and finally turning to home daycare. “I remember walking in and feeling horrified that this might be the only way I could go back to work. It was either leave my child there or quit my job of 12 years. I felt helpless.”
The need to address the child care crisis—the lack of affordability and spaces as well as low care provider wages and training—was tragically highlighted by the accidental death of Macallan Wayne. Two-year old “Baby Mac” died in a home daycare in 2017. According to critics, such a tragedy is unavoidable with unregulated child care that has no training requirements, health and safety standards, monitoring or oversight.
“There’s no question that finding a safe, quality care provider for your child is top of mind for working families,” says President Kim Novak. “It’s incredibly important and until the new government initiatives, has been incredibility stressful.” As a working mom to two busy boys, aged two and three, she speaks from experience. “I thought I’d interview all these daycares and pick the one that was right for me and my baby. What a shock to find out I’d be lucky to find anything at all. Making child care affordable and accessible enables women to have a career and provide for their family and have them be safe and well cared for.”
Under the BC NDP, things are finally changing for working women and families—for the better. Since 2017, Premier John Horgan’s government has invested $1 billion in child care, the largest single investment in child care in the province’s history. The money is earmarked for increasing spaces, reducing fees, building and renovating infrastructure, helping unlicensed providers become licensed, and improving the wages and educational opportunities for early childhood educators. It is a comprehensive approach that is long overdue, says Bowinn Ma, MLA for North Vancouver-Lonsdale.
“Before we took action, some families were paying more for childcare than they were for housing—up to $24,000 per year per child. The cost was absolutely crushing for some families and completely out of reach for others. Today, under our affordability programs a family making less than $40,000 per year can qualify for fee reductions and subsidies that bring the cost of full-time care down from $24,000 to zero. This is absolutely life-changing.”
The new Affordable Child Care Benefit provides financial support for families earning up to $111,000 a year. The Child Care Reduction Fee Initiative lowers the cost of child care for parents by funding eligible child care providers. The Child Care BC New Spaces Fund will support the creation of 22,000 new child care spaces over the next three years. For Sammi, the Affordable Child Care Benefit allowed her to secure licensed child care for her one-year old. “Without it I wouldn’t be able to afford full time care. I was given quotes of $2000 a month!”
Things have been rapidly improving for families in dozens of communities all across BC. In addition to the Affordable Child Care Benefit available across the province, North Vancouver alone has also received funding for four new child care facilities, providing 240 new licensed child care spaces as well as funding to convert an existing 37-space facility into a universal $200 a month child care prototype facility where parents pay a maximum of $200 a month for their child. There is also increased funding for programs to support teen parents.
“The progress that’s been made on the child care file in a short period of time has been remarkable, but we also know there’s still more to do,” continues Ma. “Thousands more spaces are needed, countless more early childhood educators, and even more progress needs to be made towards our goal of universal child care. We want to see BC become a place where every family has access to safe and affordable child care no matter their circumstances.”
The BC NDP’s comprehensive child care plan puts the province on track with other provinces that have established universal child care, particularly Quebec, whose $10 a day program has dramatically increased women’s participation in the workforce, which in turn paid for the program. “I’m proud that we as a union and a labour movement helped elect a government that understands the value of children to our society, and the importance of working women to our economy,” says President Novak. “There is no wasted dollar that’s invested in child care. And when working families are well-supported, everyone in society benefits.”