Extra cash for childcare buys questions

Childcare centres will get an additional $5 million over the next five years. Health and Social Services Minister Brad Cathers announced the funding…

Childcare centres will get an additional $5 million over the next five years.

Health and Social Services Minister Brad Cathers announced the funding hike Thursday.

The money will go toward staff wages, an increased subsidy for parents and staff training, he said.

But the news hasn’t mollified daycare owners and operators, who still have plenty of questions.

“The $5 million over five years  —  it would be nice to know what it’s for,” said childcare centre owner and operator Lynda Peters.

Clustered in the legislative building’s lobby on Thursday afternoon, Peters and her associates were surprised by the announcement.

The group had gathered to pressure the Yukon government.

The Liberals had planned to raise the daycare issue during Thursday’s Question Period. The funding announcement changed that strategy.

“We wanted to comment on the $1.3 million” Ottawa had given the territory, said Peters.

Called the childcare capital fund, the $1.3 million is one-time federal funding “that’s been sitting around for a year,” she said.

“That’s what I’m not happy about, they’ve had the money a long time and there’s still no plan.

“The situation is getting a little desperate.”

Thursday, in addition to the $5 million funding hike, Cathers announced the childcare capital fund would be used to create more available spaces, “particularly in areas in the Yukon where supply is not adequate and for children under 18 months of age.”

That’s a poor use of the money, said Peters.

“We don’t need it for new spaces,” she said.

“We need it to maintain what we already have. We have empty spaces in the Yukon — there are daycares that aren’t full.”

Many daycares in rural areas have a short shelf life, added Peters.

“So investing money in a space that wraps up after three years may not be a good investment.”

The money should be used to improve existing spaces, she added.

To keep staff, many operators of childcare centres have increased wages at the expense of upkeep and maintenance.

“Operators have tipped their budget points beyond what they should to pay good wages,” said Peters.

“They’ve taken away from other parts of their program because they haven’t increased their income — all they’ve done is reallocated funds so they can retain staff.

“So, in truth, increased wages isn’t the biggest crisis right now, it is maintaining facilities.”

But wages are still an issue, said Yukon Childcare Association president Cyndi Desharnais.

“I think it’s excellent they are looking at improving wages,” she said, responding to the $5 million in new funding.

“But if it’s only 10 cents more an hour, then it’s not sufficient.”

There are more than 250 early childhood educators in the territory, she said.

“And I’m anticipating the money won’t be enough to significantly improve wages.”

Only part of the $5 million is going toward wages, added Peters.

“The majority of investment will be increasing subsidies to help parents,” said Cathers.

“And essentially that is aimed at low-income families.

“We are taking steps to increase the labour pool, as well as provide those who are on social assistance with the ability to move into employment if childcare is an impediment.”

Subsidizing childcare helps low-income families, said Peters.

“But that doesn’t help my daycare.”

Peters’ childcare centre is already full.

And subsidies are a headache, she said.

“They require a significant amount of administration on my part; we’re the odd man out in a three-party system, where the contract is with the low-income individual and the government.”

Subsidies have fallen in the past years, leaving a larger cost gap for families to make up, she added.

And childcare fees will be going up excessively in the next few years, said Peters.

“Because childcare centres can’t operate on their existing income right now.”

Childcare workers should expect a pay raise by early summer, said Cathers.

The government plans to funnel $500,000 into the childcare system as soon as talks with stakeholders are completed, he said.

The remaining $4.5 million will be distributed over the remaining four years, with $1 million invested in the second year, $1.1 million distributed in the third and $1.2 issued in year four and five.

The government currently invests $5.3 million in childcare annually.

The new funding will boost the Yukon’s annual investment in childcare to $6.5 million, said Cathers.