Yukon Party government sells children short

The Yukon subsidizes daycare less than the rest of the North. According to a document found at childcarecanada.

The Yukon subsidizes daycare less than the rest of the North.

According to a document found at childcarecanada.org, Yukon parents are eligible to receive a $500 monthly government subsidy for infant day care and $450 for preschool children.

The same document says Northwest Territories and Nunavut parents receive a daycare subsidy of up to $700 a month.

“Our subsidy rates haven’t changed in 15 or 16 years,” said Cyndi Desharnais, president of the Yukon Childcare Association.

“We’ve been asking the government to do something about it for some time with basically no response — nothing has been done.

“We’ve been lobbying, but we’re basically unheard. We’ve been lobbying about wages; we’ve been lobbying about subsidy increases for a couple years now and we’re still falling on deaf ears — nothing’s been done — child-care is in a huge crisis.”

Clayton Keats, director of the Church of Nazarene Daycare knows firsthand how childcare subsidies affect his business and the care of Whitehorse children.

Keats’ rates for infant care are $650 per month, he says. If Yukon parents were to receive $700, like those in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, parents would pay less and he could pay his staff more.

Currently, staff are underpaid, he said.

The centre is running a $10,000 deficit this year, and Keats cannot afford to raise his staff’s wages.

Low wages for daycare workers has been the subject of news stories for years.

“If they were to set the rate at $700, like they have in Northwest Territories and Nunavut, then that is money that the parent doesn’t have to pay the centre because I’m not going to raise my rates if I can get $700,” said Keats.

In 2004, he increased his rates above the subsidy levels for the first time. They reached $650 in April 2005.

“To cover existing costs with the full-time director, a full-time hot-meal program and an infant program, by the time you calculate utilities and everything added in, I calculated that one infant space is about $1,100 per month and that’s where the problem is,” said Keats.

“So $650 is the bottom line I can charge.”

This leaves many parents and young children out in the cold because Yukoners only receive subsidies for “regulated” daycare.

If they can’t find space in such a program, they are not eligible for the subsidy. They cannot simply find a neighbour or friend to look after their kids and receive the subsidy for that.

“If I had more subsidy from the government it would work one of two ways,” said Keats.

“Right now, as it exists, there is a deficit of about roughly $10,000 — any business, especially child-care, would go under real soon if those numbers continued.

“If you continue to run at a deficit, pretty soon you might have to think about the services you’re offering to the community — we’re offering the hot-meal program and we’re offering the infant program as well — and I’ve been fighting as hard as I can to make sure both programs still continue.

“Now what would happen, ultimately, if subsidy rates were increased? First of all, I’m thinking about the parents themselves. Now, all of a sudden, there’s less money that comes out of the parent’s pocket in fees.

“The reason that fees went up in the first place was to try to give money to the workers.

“If subsidy rates were increased from their base value, and I’m not talking $50, I’m talking close to matching what the other territories are making, what would happen then is we would have more revenue generated — then it’s up to the individual centres whether or not they would put that in wages.”

The Yukon Party has not been listening to concerns from childcare providers.

“Ten years ago, one of my workers sat in on meetings when he was with the Yukon Childcare Association with the Yukon Party of that time, and he was told outright that, ‘If this is going to cost any money, then you can forget about changes in this existing act,’ and that attitude from 10 years ago has carried through,” said Keats.

“I think that if it does come down to dollars and cents, the government does get a little bit leery of this.

“The Yukon territory is lagging behind in this area … and if this one issue was addressed we could actually start getting to the heart of fixing some of the childcare problems.”