Health and Social Services Minister Brad Cathers says childcare workers have misquoted him.
On Wednesday, the News published a story featuring Whitehorse childcare worker Heidi Spinks.
She charged Cathers had broken a promise he made on the cusp of the territorial election.
At an all-party forum on child care last fall, Cathers committed to giving childcare workers, “Cold hard cash in your pockets by spring,” said Spinks on Wednesday.
The money was committed to help childcare operators keep staff from migrating to higher paying jobs in the service industry, she said.
But Cathers countered that he never made the pledge.
“The commitment to working on addressing that area is correct,” said Cathers on Wednesday. “However, the commitment to have ‘Cold hard cash in pockets by spring’ is entirely inaccurate.”
He believes Spinks has mixed up the party positions from the forum.
While the Yukon Party and the NDP shared similar positions at the forum — agreeing on the need to work with childcare workers to fix the system and address funding issues — neither committed to immediate money, he said.
It was the Liberals that made a commitment of an “arbitrary, immediate increase in funding,” said Cathers.
But addressing concerns with the childcare system is still a top priority with the Yukon Party government, he said.
The Health department is working with the Yukon Child Care Board to make the “first step” to determine the needs of the childcare system and where problems with funding may be lurking, said Cathers.
He has asked all involved for their theories on what isn’t working as a way to find a fix, he said.
“Rather than the political offices, I’ve asked for the advice of the department and the stakeholders, to tell me, first and foremost, if we’re flowing the money to them in the most efficient manner or if there are issues within the system that unnecessarily result in funding inefficiencies,” said Cathers.
He described the system and its regulations as “very complex.”
The question before the department and stakeholders is, “Should the system be revised?” he said.
Funding shortages that may be leading to staff shortages is only one of many issues facing the childcare industry, said Cathers.
The Yukon Party government has committed to work with operators, workers and parents to address the issue, as well as create more spaces — especially for children under 18 months, reduce rates, increase financial support, reduce disincentives to allow parents to work and address cultural issues within the system related to First Nations children, he said.
“There are a lot of issues within this, and all of them need to be fully addressed,” said Cathers. “At this point, the ball is largely in the court of the child care board and of officials within the department to provide me with advice as soon as they can.”
Instead of addressing problems individually, Cathers is seeking an “integrated approach” to fixing the system, he said.
He noted the government increased the direct operating grant by 40 per cent in its last mandate, raising its overall investment in child care to $5.3 million every year.
“This is the second-best funded system in the country,” said Cathers. “The response from the operators is, despite the increase, they weren’t able to direct that to workers because of other costs, such as payroll and other issues.
“So one of the things we’re doing here is asking the childcare board to tell us what the other issues are.”
“If you have a leaky pail, you plug the hole before pouring more water into it. What we’ve heard from operators is that there are areas where the funding is not coming as efficiently as it could.”
Spinks also charged that Cathers and the Yukon Party government are “sitting on” a $1.3-million fund earmarked for child care from the federal government.
There is an announcement on the use of the money coming in the near future, said Cathers.
“I would expect it probably sometime this month.”
Cathers and Yukon Child Care Association president Cyndi Descharnais met on Thursday to discuss several issues.
Contact Tim Querengesser at email@example.com