Manitoba government won't meet election promise for new child-care spaces

The Manitoba government is backtracking on a promise to fund new home daycare spaces at the same time a review of capital project funding has halted daycare construction and left some families scrambling to find child care.
The Manitoba government is backtracking on a promise to fund new home daycare spaces at the same time a review of capital project funding has halted daycare construction and left some families scrambling to find child care. 2:01

The Manitoba government is backtracking on a promise to fund new home daycare spaces at the same time a review of capital project funding has halted daycare construction and left some families scrambling to find child care.

Karen Martindale is stuck after construction of the daycare she hoped to put her children in next year was put on hold — something she only discovered when a friend told her construction fences had been taken down.

"It would have been nice had we known formally, if the government had been able to communicate to parents that there would be a pause," Martindale said.

Ian Wishart promised 550 new private child-care spaces during the election campaign. (CBC News)
Progressive Conservative MLA Ian Wishart said two weeks before the April election that the province would help fund 550 new home daycare spaces this year.

But Families Minister Scott Fielding recently denied that promise was made.

The Canadian Press reported Wishart's promise on April 7 and the story was posted on CBC Manitoba's website.

Ian Wishart promises 550 new private child-care spaces during the election campaign 0:54

"What was announced during the election campaign, was spoken of, was that under the previous administration they had lost about 550-some-odd spots in the home-based setting," Fielding said.

Families Minister Scott Fielding denies Ian Wishart promised 550 new home daycare spaces. (CBC News)
The government-wide review of capital project funding, which the government launched after it was elected in April, hasn't halted plans for every child-care centre. The government hopes to have 904 new spaces open by March 2017, Fielding said, and some spaces have already opened.

The provincial government plans to put $163 million, about $6 million more than last year, toward child care, he said.

Reaching the goal of 904 spaces will depend on how long it takes to build the facilities and hire licensed staff.

The provincial government provided a list of the new spaces.

"We were left with quite a big hole, about 15,000 people waiting for child-care spots, which we don't think is a good approach. It's going to take some time to dig out of that," Fielding said.

Mother of 2 left hanging

Martindale is now one of the people on daycare wait-lists.

She had hoped to send her kids to the R.F. Morrison daycare in September 2017, when it was scheduled to open.

Her daughter will begin kindergarten at R.F. Morrison School next year and their current daycare doesn't offer transportation to the school. Driving the kids is not currently an option for Martindale and her husband. 

"We work full-time, and we both value being able to work full-time," Martindale said.

When Martindale heard the daycare construction fences had been taken down, she called the Manitoba Department of Families and was told the pause on construction was not made public, she said.

She is now signing up on wait-lists of 14-15 months at other daycares. Her daughter begins school in 10 months.

"I feel it would've put parents in a better position if the information could've been made available as soon as possible," she said. "It would have allowed parents as much time as possible to pursue all of those options."

Martindale doesn't know what she'll do in September and said the situation is "stressful."

NDP critic Nahanni Fontaine said the government has no strategy for child-care spaces and no target for access to daycare, she said.

"What is it? is it 10 per cent of children? Is it 20 per cent of children that get access to a space?" Fontaine said.

The government's review of projects that the previous government committed to is "problematic," she said, and she wonders whether the government understands how critical child-care spaces are to the Manitoba economy.

Fielding said the Department of Families will roll out an implementation strategy in the new year but didn't specify a date.

Child-care centres wait for approval

Pat Wege, executive director of the Manitoba Child Care Association, said the provincial daycare wait-list is growing as centres wait for funding confirmation.

"The programs are really stuck because they can't go forward without a funding commitment. When the number of the kids on the online waiting list continues to grow, yeah, that's a problem," Wege said.

"Things have pretty much ground to a halt. We're not seeing any new licensing."

Pat Wege of the Manitoba Child Care Association says several community-based child-care centres have been put on hold. (CBC News )
Wege said she realizes the Tories are still figuring things out but called creating new daycare spaces critical due to the number of parents unable to work during the shortage.

A recent Probe Research poll showed that 30 per cent of Manitoba parents are turning down jobs because they don't have child care. Forty-one per cent are delaying a return to work, and 24 per cent decline educational opportunities.