Emergency daycares to open in Ontario, but not for federal workers

Federal public servants are not on the list of "essential workers" who will soon be able to access free, emergency daycare programs being set up across Ontario. 

Childcare advocate calls for national protocols, guidelines for emergency centres

According to a new report, P.E.I. is leading the country when it comes to early childhood education. (Katerina Georgieva/CBC)

Federal public servants are currently not on the list of "essential workers" who will soon be able to access free, emergency daycare programs being set up across Ontario. 

Premier Doug Ford initially ordered daycare centres across the province to close as part of the COVID-19 state of emergency. 

But now, some child-care agencies will reopen and be available for certain workers, including police, firefighters, nurses, provincial lab workers, and youth services employees. 

The list doesn't include federal public servants, however, even though some federal agencies —  including those managing hundreds of thousands of employment insurance applications — consider their people essential right now. 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau even noted at his regular media briefing Tuesday that the entire civil service is working "day and night". 

Morna Ballantyne, executive director of Child Care Now, is calling on Canada's chief public health officer to set national guidelines as provinces rush to open emergency daycare centres for essential workers. (Submitted)

'Scrambling for child care'

"Workers who are doing that are going to need support, and many of them will have young children. And they're going to be scrambling for child care," said Morna Ballantyne, executive director of Child Care Now, a national advocacy group in Ottawa. 

"Unfortunately it doesn't look like the provisions that provinces are putting into place include federal workers."

There are nine daycare centres attached to federal operations across the country, according to Chris Aylward, president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada. 

One of those facilities is at the Tunney's Pasture government complex in Ottawa. 

"At a minimum, these child care centres should be opened for the employees that have been deemed critical, for sure, to try to lessen that burden," said Aylward.

Aylward said he's asked Treasury Board officials about daycare options, but the department's response is that they're still looking into it.

The Treasury Board did not respond to questions from CBC News about daycare for federal workers.

The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC) is also looking for answers. 

"Currently, managers are being instructed to accommodate critical workers. In some cases it means they must work from home. Some others are being asked to work different shifts," said Johanne Filion, communications officer with PIPSC.

Those accommodations allow some public servants to manage the demands of child care, Filon said.

Chris Aylward, president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, says the government should open some of the nine daycare facilities in federal buildings across the country to help essential federal workers. (Robyn Miller/CBC )

But not all parents can make that juggling act work, according to Carolyn Fern, public policy co-ordinator with the Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care. 

"In a case where you have a single-parent family or [where] both parents are front-line workers, then [daycare] can be a really important service for those families," Fern said. 

"We've certainly been hearing from parents who've been reaching out to us that this service is so important."

Different provinces, different protocols

The province of Quebec launched daycare facilities for essential workers early on in the pandemic. In Saskatchewan, child care was set up in schools to provide care to children of hospital employees and other front-line workers.

Ballantyne said she's concerned by the fact that every province is making different decisions and implementing different protocols.

Her organization is calling on Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada's chief public health officer, to set guidelines.

"Right now we're hearing a lot of different contradictory things coming out of different provinces and some public health authorities locally and provincially," said Ballantyne. 

"We're not getting a sense of clear guidelines … we don't really understand what kind of screening is going to be put in place. We don't know what kind of ratios are going to be imposed."

The province of Ontario has said the daycare centres for essential workers should re-open by the end of the week.


Julie Ireton

Senior Reporter

Julie Ireton is a senior reporter who works on investigations and enterprise news features at CBC Ottawa. She's also the host of the new CBC investigative podcast, The Band Played On. You can reach her at