Council hesitant to support universal child care

City council backed off Monday on endorsing a plan to reduce daycare fees to $10 per day

City council backed off Monday on endorsing a plan to reduce daycare fees to $10 per day despite one councillor urging the others to support the initiative.

Coun. Larry Samson acknowledged that Island Health’s Chief Medical Officer Charmaine Enns and Dr. Tanya Flood from Success by 6 have both told council that Campbell River children rate lower for standards of reading and writing compared to their counterparts in the rest of the province.

And he said that both Enns and Flood have said that the $10 a day daycare plan would make a difference.

“I hope the rest of council supports this,” Samson said. “There is no greater asset than our children for our future and now. It’s an investment now for our future and it’s an investment for our children’s future.”

Coun. Michele Babchuk put forward a motion that council endorse the plan, which is supported by 40 other regional districts and local governments, and Campbell River’s School District 72.

Under the plan, funding for daycare would fall under the provincial Ministry of Education and would be subsidized by the province, allowing for affordable daycare – $10 a day for full-time care, $7 a day for children attending daycare part-time and free for families with annual incomes below $40,000.

Dee McPhee from the Campbell River Early Care and Learning Coalition, said the plan would help eliminate child poverty; in Campbell River 22.8 per cent of children live in poverty compared to the provincial average of 18.6 per cent.

“Child care is expensive,” McPhee told council in her presentation Monday night. “Child care fees are often a family’s highest expense after their mortgage. Child care can cost more than a child’s post-secondary education and there are no RESP’s for child care.”

In Campbell River, on average, daycare costs $987 per month for toddlers and $735 per month for 3-to-5-year-olds.

But under the plan, the province would subsidize child care costs which would increase a family’s disposable income, have early childcare educators work alongside kindergarten teachers, and raise the wages of child care workers.

“The plan invests in the ECE (Early Childcare Educators) workforce by supporting all educators to have a two-year diploma,” McPhee said. “And the historical low wages in the field would increase to $25 an hour, along with improved benefits.”

But not everyone on council was ready to endorse the plan. Coun. Marlene Wright wondered how much it would cost to implement and where the money would come from. Advocates of the plan project it would cost the province roughly $88 million a year to implement the program for children under three and $1.5 billion a year to include all children under six. Advocates say that because more parents would be able to go to work, the cost would be offset by an increase in taxes going to the province on the additional income being spent.

But Wright wasn’t too sure.

“From what I’m hearing I don’t see how it wouldn’t impact taxation because it is a subsidy, it has to come from somewhere, someone has to pay for it,” Wright said. “I think we need to do it, but it seems to have a lot of open ceilings.”

Babchuk said while it sounds like a lot, it’s about creating priorities.

“What this coalition is trying to do is create a priority with the provincial government to say that this is an issue in our community,” Babchuk said. “This is a gap in our system.”

Coun. Colleen Evans was also supportive of the plan.

“This is so important for our community,” Evans said. “I believe not only for our children but for mothers and fathers of those children to allow them to be able to enter the workforce and I just think this is a win-win as an investment in our community.”

But council in the end chose to defer making a decision on endorsing the $10 a day plan until its next council meeting which is May 25. Councillors Samson and Babchuk were opposed.

Mayor Andy Adams said there were just too many unknowns to make a decision Monday night.

“I would like more time to go through it and do some due diligence,” Adams said. “I’m concerned I’ve only seen this report in the last 48 hours. I’m concerned about the unintended consequences of a well-intentioned program.”