British Columbia

Province says 16% of child-care spots promised are open, halfway through funding timeline

In 2018, the NDP promised 22,000 new licensed child-care spaces in three years. Halfway through that timeline, funding for about half of the spots has been announced — but only a fraction are actually open.

NDP says half of the spaces already have funding announced, but opposition says it's moving too slowly

B.C. Minister of State for Child Care Katrina Chen announces 682 newly approved child-care spaces in Burnaby on Monday, March 9th. (CBC News)

The B.C. government is trumpeting success as it continues toward its three-year target of 22,000 new child-care spaces by 2021, but the opposition critic says only a fraction of those spaces are currently available to parents.

On Monday, the B.C. Minister of State for Child Care Katrina Chen revealed a swath of newly approved spaces in Burnaby, in partnership with the city and the Burnaby School District.

"We're happy to announce ... we have supported the creation of close to 1,000 spaces in Burnaby alone," said Chen, to a round of applause.

But just days earlier, her government acknowledged that while they've announced money for about half of the 22,000 licensed child-care spaces that were promised in 2018, only about one-tenth (11 per cent) were in operation.

The revelation came Thursday during debate in the House over budget estimates.

The BC Liberals asked the NDP how many of the 10,400 new spaces funded since July 2018, as outlined in this year's budget, are functioning today.

We just don't think they can do it because they're suffering the constraints of labour supply that all child-care spaces are suffering across B.C.- Opposition Child Care Critic Laurie Throness

"Currently, our estimated number [of those] that have been opened is around 2,400," replied Chen. "That being said, we're collecting more data and connecting with providers."

The ministry provided updated numbers Tuesday, saying 3,600 of those spaces are currently open to parents. That increases the percentage of active spaces to from 11 to 16 per cent. 

At the current pace, the opposition said it would take nearly three more years to see the spaces that are already announced come on line, and seven years to reach the overall target. 

"It's an impossibly long time to do that," said B.C. Liberal MLA and opposition critic for child care Laurie Throness in an interview. "We just don't think they can do it because they're suffering the constraints of labour supply that all child-care spaces are suffering across B.C."

"John Horgan and the NDP have misled the public into thinking that his plan is working, but they are falling drastically behind on their timeframe to get these spaces operational," said Throness.

The NDP launched the Childcare B.C. New Spaces Fund in July 2018, committing to investing $221-million in 22,000 new spaces over three years.

In the weeks since Budget 2020 was delivered, the number of spaces with funding allocated has grown to 13,000.

More child-care spaces to be located on school grounds

The province is also pointing to newly passed amendments to the School Act, which were given royal assent last week.

The legislative changes allow school districts to create child-care spaces on school property, and operate not-for-profit before and after-school care.

Minister of Education Rob Fleming says school boards can prioritize available space and create programs based on the individual needs of each community.

"Safe, affordable, licensed care gives parents and guardians the peace of mind they need to go to work or school — knowing they have quality care they can rely on close to home," said Fleming.

Most of the new spaces announced for Burnaby on Monday will be spread out to eight different locations on school district property, with six at elementary schools.

"Our government is paving the way to ensure more child care is offered on school grounds, giving Burnaby families more supports and services," said Fleming.

Clarifications

  • The NDP provided an update after publication. According to the ministry, the number of childcare spaces currently open is 3,600, up from Thursday's estimate of 2,400.
    Mar 10, 2020 10:36 AM PT

About the Author

Provincial Affairs Reporter covering the B.C. Legislature. Anything political: tanya.fletcher@cbc.ca

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