REGINA - It’s gotten to the point in the legislature where even the good news announcements are bad news to the ears of the Opposition.
Fresh off last week’s federal-provincial announcement on $10 a day child care effective on April 1 -- an announcement in Regina attended by Education Minister Dustin Duncan and federal Minister Karina Gould -- the opposition New Democrats were accusing the Sask Party government in Question Period Tuesday of a lack of consultation of child care centre operators.
"They weren’t consulted at all before that announcement was made," said Opposition Leader Carla Beck in Question Period.
"And now, Mr. Speaker, they may be forced to turn away families who rely on part-time spaces and are looking at doing more with less."
Premier Scott Moe responded by saying "we share in their frustration of a lack of consultation not only with the child care... with the lack of consultation, Mr. Speaker, because we felt a lack of consultation with the introduction of this policy as well from the federal government.
"However we do see the opportunity to provide a higher level of funding to our child care centres across the province, Mr. Speaker. That’s why we were the third province to sign and to move forward in moving our child care rates to $10 here in this province of Saskatchewan. That’s why in large portion, we’re able to continue to increase the number of spaces that we have been increasing for a number of years now, Mr. Speaker. We’re at 22,884 spaces. Last November, we increased over 2,000 spaces."
Beck also pressed Education Minister Dustin Duncan on the issue, saying "pushing part-time parents out of child care spaces that don’t exist is going to force more people — mostly women — out of their jobs."
"People need more jobs and bigger paycheques in this province, Mr. Speaker, but leaving moms without the child care they need isn’t going to get us there."
Duncan's response, as recorded in Hansard, was the following:
"Certainly the intention is not to limit access to child care services for families who require less than full-time care, and the move to full-time and daily fees is not intended to impact the number of children, Mr. Speaker.
"We will continue to work with child care facilities to best determine how to adjust the fee structures in order to adhere to the new $217.50 per month or $10 a day. In the meantime, Mr. Speaker, as we are working through this with facilities, the ministry will continue to provide funding based on the total number of children under the age of six enrolled until June 30th of this summer."
"Mr. Speaker, it is so disappointing to hear a premier incapable of taking responsibility for a single decision made by his government," was the reaction from Regina Elphinstone-Centre MLA Meara Conway, who noted child care providers were in attendance in the gallery.
"And as the minister just said, this may have not been the intention, but this is what’s happened. And it wouldn’t have happened had they consulted with these child care providers.These child care providers would not be seated in your gallery — they wouldn’t have made their way from Saskatoon, from Whitewood, to represent Moosomin and Carnduff, and come to Regina — if that minister had picked up the phone and spoken to them."
Duncan responded the Ministry of Education "has been in close consultations with child care facilities across this province, including organizations such as the Saskatchewan Early Childhood Association."
"Mr. Speaker, certainly when we signed the deal, we looked to have an increasing amount of flexibility. This is something that I’ve communicated with the minister as recently as last week, Mr. Speaker. And this is one of the challenges, as we’re essentially running a child care system and have a federal government that doesn’t run child care insert themselves into this area. We’re trying to reconfigure the plane while it’s still in the air, Mr. Speaker. This has caused some challenges along the way. That’s why we’re working with the industry as we adopt the $10 a day or 217.50 per month, Mr. Speaker, and ensure that children are not left without a space."
"Mr. Speaker, consultation after the announcement is not consultation, okay?" was Conway's reaction.
"Ten dollars a day makes for a great headline, Mr. Speaker, there’s no question. But details matter, and when this government doesn’t listen to the front lines those details get missed. The parents of kids in part-time care don’t have anywhere to go. Wait times for full-time spots can be months long, even more than a year. Does the minister realize that access to a wait-list is not access to child care?"
Duncan responded the plan is "utilizing not only the provincial dollars that we’ve already put in place, Mr. Speaker, as well as the federal dollars through both bilateral agreements that we do have that does see Saskatchewan now have 114 per cent more child care spaces than we did 15 years ago, including 2,200 new child care spaces that we announced in November on top of the over 2,000 that we announced last March, Mr. Speaker."
Afterwards in the rotunda, child care providers explained their plight. Saskatoon provider Brittany Pelletier pointed out that as of July 1 they would no longer receive the government portion for drop-in and part time fees.
“Not only is this resulting in a loss of income for providers, but this will affect our ability to provide accessible care to more families who were utilizing part-time and drop in spaces in the absence of our full-time enrolled children. With such low incentive, there is no benefit to offering the service anymore. To me, this move will be costing me nearly $500 a month.”
“The systems are broken,” said Nicole Kessel, director of Wiggles and Giggles Childcare Centre in Whitewood. “They need to sit down with us -- we’re on the frontlines dealing with it, and ask our opinions of what would actually work.”
As for what would work, Castle wanted to see more childcare centres being built, and more early childhood educators being trained.
“The retention is ridiculous, There’s no staff retention,” said Kessel, noting at her own business they had gone through four employees in seven months of operation “just because of the hard work at such a minimum wage.”
In speaking to reporters Duncan said that because they were halfway through the fiscal year, they were focused at getting to the $10 a day “as quickly as possible so that we didn’t essentially leave money on the table.”
“We know that a big focus for the sector is a workforce plan, a wage grid. I don’t think we can increase the number of spaces as quickly as I think people would like to, because we obviously need a workforce. That is going to take a lot of time, so if we focused more on that prior before we really worked hard to get to the $10 a day, I think that would have satisfied a lot of people in terms of building that work force, building out that wage grid, but we would’ve left a lot more money on the table because we can only carry over so much. That’s kind of what I was referring to when I was saying about 'we’re fixing the plane while we’re in the air'... we know the workforce is a big part of this. But in order to address that first, we would’ve left money on the table.”
Duncan added that “I think everyone would’ve been rightly critical for leaving money on the table, so that’s why we went on the affordability issue first.”