They came with signs, children and their voices and they filled the public gallery to overflowing at Monday night’s council meeting.
More than 70 early childhood educators, advocates, parents and their children descended on city hall to encourage city council to endorse a plan for $10 a day child care.
While council didn’t go so far as to endorse the plan in its entirety, councillors did support the concept in principle and that seemed to satisfy the crowd which let out a cheer following the vote.
After a couple of attempts by council to nail down what it was trying to say, councillors in the end voted to endorse in principle $10 a day child care by sending an endorsement in principle letter from mayor and council expressing how it will benefit the community.
Councillors Michele Babchuk, Charlie Cornfield, Colleen Evans and Larry Samson were in favour while councillors Ron Kerr, Marlene Wright and Mayor Andy Adams were opposed.
Coun. Kerr said he felt there were other alternatives to dealing with child poverty while Coun. Wright was concerned there were too many holes in the proposal.
Adams he supported the concept of affordable daycare but was worried about how the province would pay for the plan which is estimated to cost roughly $1.5 billion a year to implement if it were to include all children under the age of six.
But Coun. Cornfield said that’s something that the province can work out down the road. He said by supporting the plan in principle, council was simply saying it supports helping those who are most in need.
“It’s saying we definitely support the concept of helping the most vulnerable in our community and Campbell River has always been known for that,” Cornfield said. “It’s saying it supports the $10 a day in principle. How it gets paid for will be worked out.”
Coun. Babchuk agreed and said it was about local government having the opportunity to bring the issue of child poverty to a higher government body.
“This is an exercise in communication here, it’s an opportunity to bring issues in our community to the province,” Babchuk said. “All we’re doing is exercising our right to communicate that this has the ability to help people in our area.”
Coun. Samson, who has been vocal in his support for organizations like Success by 6 and encouraged council at its last meeting May 11 to support the plan, reiterated that Campbell River’s child poverty rate is higher than the provincial average at 22.8 per cent and that Campbell River children rate lower for standards of reading and writing compared to their provincial counterparts. Samson also reminded council that Dr. Charmaine Enns, Island Health’s chief medical officer, has said in the past that initiatives such as the $10 a day plan help reduce child poverty because it puts more money in the pockets of parents. It also allows more parents to enter the workforce.
“This is the time to make the change, to break the trend,” Samson said. “Daycare should be available to all families, not just the ones that can afford it.”
Samson added that one of council’s strategic goals states that a community’s strength is defined by how it treats its most vulnerable.
“And that’s what we’re talking about here tonight.”
While council backed off on fully endorsing the plan, which 40 other regional district and local governments have done – including Campbell River’s School District 72 – council will still send a letter of endorsement in principle.
Under the plan, funding for daycare would fall under the mandate of 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.
Currently daycare on average in Campbell River costs $987 per month for toddlers and $735 each month for 3-to-5-year-olds.
The plan would also raise the wages of early childhood educators to $25 an hour and would put an early childhood educator in each kindergarten and Grade 1 classroom.