Daycare spaces are hard to come by in Manitoba and it has some, including a Brandon parent who waited outside a daycare for hours just to get on a waiting list, calling for child care to become both a federal and provincial election issue.
Alecia McLeod was in line at 3:30 a.m. on Easter Monday, desperately hoping for a spot at the YMCA-run daycare program for her six-year-old daughter attending École Harrison School in Brandon.
McLeod was number 12 in line, with one man waiting since 11 p.m. on Sunday for the office to open its doors at 5:45 a.m. Fortunately for her, she was the first in line for a spot for École Harrison students who want to go to that daycare. Unfortunately, that number one spot brings with it no guarantees.
"That's what I'm doing right now," McLeod said, "coming up with a Plan B on how am I going to make this work. My job can't accommodate me for that, so I'm going to have to rely on family and friends and my husband, which I don't think is fair, that I have to burden my child-care issues on family and friends."
McLeod says it's the first thing you should be doing in Manitoba when you find out you're pregnant: get on that waiting list.
"It's not the YMCA's fault, it's not the school's fault. There is no space," she told CBC's Radio Noon program on Tuesday. "I could say I will pay $600 a month for daycare but I can't find it."
McLeod thinks the only way to solve this conundrum is to get the politicians to make this their priority.
"We need more daycare spaces, there needs to be more facilities but in order for that to happen, you have to be paying the people that work at these places a better wage. It needs to be federally funded."
'Crisis is the right word,' says child care group
Pat Wege is the executive director of the Manitoba Child Care Association and she agrees with McLeod's conclusion.
"It's a problem in Brandon, it's a problem in Manitoba and it's a problem from coast to coast to coast in this country and unfortunately there hasn't yet been the political will to tackle this problem," she said.
Wege says politicians should care because this prevents people from being able to enter or re-enter the workforce or return to school.
"I'm hoping in the upcoming federal and provincial elections, parents frustrated with the shortage of quality licensed childcare will be speaking up because that's the only way we will convince politicians to make this a priority."
The federal government's move in 2006 towards the Universal Child Care Benefit, put $100 in the hands of parents each month to help compensate parents for the costs of raising children — but as Wege points out, that might not be the best answer.
"That money didn't do the parent in this particular situation any good. She had money but nowhere to spend it and that's a common story all across the country."
Instead, Wege suggests a push toward the creation of new services and higher wages for early childhood educators.
"A partnership between the federal and provincial governments would go a long way to addressing this problem, which is indeed a crisis. Crisis is the right word."
The crunch of licensed spaces in the province often pushes families to look at unlicensed child care providers, which Wege says aren't subject to very thorough monitoring practices, leaving parents rolling the dice with their children's safety.
"I've never heard of people standing in line to get on a waiting list. I have heard of people bribing childcare programs to get bumped up on the waiting list.... When it comes to childcare, there's a lot of desperate people out there."