Daycare shortage on Magdalen Islands leaves parents scrambling daily to find child care

Quebec's Family Ministry has promised 36 new spaces at one of the Islands' two early childhood education centres, but they won't be ready for at least two years.

Dozens of young children on waiting lists, as parents juggle work and family life

Jean-Michel Leblanc and his wife Marie-Ève Giroux constantly have to rearrange schedules because they don't have a space in daycare for their youngest daughter. (Radio-Canada)

Jean-Michel Leblanc is one of dozens of parents on the Magdalen Islands struggling to secure a daycare spot for his youngest daughter, comparing the daily task to "constantly trying to complete a jigsaw puzzle."

A survey by the Magdalen Islands youth advisory committee found 125 children under the age of five need a space in daycare, or will by September.

Leblanc says he has to juggle child care responsibilities daily, without being able to plan ahead.

His 22-month-old is on the standby list of a home daycare, which means he sometimes only gets confirmation at 9 a.m. about an available spot if one of the children with a spot is absent.

Leblanc's wife, Marie-Ève Giroux, works full-time for a local environmental organization and doesn't have much flexibility, so she can't pitch in on days when no temporary daycare spots are freed up.

Leblanc has three part-time jobs: he's a CEGEP teacher, a school counsellor and an energy efficiency consultant. He said his employers are understanding, but there is little wiggle room.

"If I am offered a 40-hour-a-week job right now, I would have to refuse," said Leblanc.

New spaces coming — in 2020

Leblanc also went through this juggling act with his four-year-old, before finally securing a space in a subsidized home daycare last September.

There are 189 daycare spaces in total on the Magdalen Islands, according to data from Quebec's Family Ministry, in addition to 120 spaces at two subsidized non-profit early childhood education centres, known as CPEs.
Jean-Michel Leblanc said people want to move to the Magdalen Islands for its beauty and quality of life, but one family had to leave because they couldn't find a daycare for their child. (Marika Wheeler/CBC)

While one of the CPEs has been granted 36 new spaces by the province, it requires the construction of a new building first — which won't be ready for at least two years.

Turning to private daycare is not an option for Leblanc, either.

Even though he'd be willing to pay up to $70 a day to secure peace of mind, he said there are just no spaces available.

Family leaves the Islands

Leblanc said he's fortunate considering his whole family lives on the Islands, and he can call his mother or his aunt if there is an emergency.

But he said that's not the case for everyone and said at least ten of his close friends are in the same situation.

"I know a family who left the Islands, in part because they couldn't find a space," he said.

Mayor Jonathan Lapierre wants the government to act.

"This [shortage] adds stress to young professionals who have to choose between work, family and financial obligations," he said.

A spokesperson for Family Minister Luc Fortin said the ministry works in close collaboration with the CPEs and is looking for solutions.

With files from Minaz Kerawala, Quebec AM and Radio-Canada