At its Oct. 6 regular council and Committee of the Whole meetings, Village of Pemberton (VOP) council addressed the lack of childcare space in the community as part of three separate items of business.
Firstly, during the regular meeting, council gave the first two readings to a zoning amendment after a childcare centre applied to operate in the Portage Road commercial zone. The amendment would allow childcare centres in all commercial zones.
The public hearing will take place during the Oct. 20 meeting, which starts at 9 a.m.
Earlier in the day, new Pemberton Children's Centre manager Bobby Boyd presented at council’s request. Boyd covered a variety of topics ranging from how the centre operates during the COVID-19 pandemic to how government could help childcare operate more effectively in the community.
In terms of facilitating the field’s success, Boyd stressed that while finding government funding for spaces is important, it means little if wages for early childhood educators (ECEs) don’t become more attractive.
“Space isn’t the issue,” said Boyd, who came to Pemberton from Vancouver Island this summer. “I’ve been part of projects where we’ve built beautiful daycare space and had plenty of room, but what it comes down to is we can’t staff it.”
Currently, the centre’s staff members are mostly coming from Japan and South Korea, and their certificates are transferrable.
Boyd noted that the pandemic has acutely highlighted issues, as the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit was often higher than wages, while potential staff members say that they can earn significantly more and enjoy benefits such as a ski pass at a desk job in Whistler with far less of a health risk.
“We really need to recognize early [childhood] educators as teachers, as educators, and pay them accordingly,” he said, noting that the centre offers $18 to $20 an hour to start, rising to $22.
Boyd added that staff has an added workload because of the pandemic, with additional cleaning, sanitizing and handwashing for both themselves and the children.
While the VOP is exploring free or subsidized ECE training, Boyd has observed that few are enrolling.
“People are just not signing up for it,” he said.
As cold and flu season approaches, Boyd said the centre is challenged in that schools are allowing children with runny noses to attend if they’ve tested negative for COVID-19.
“That’s not a good thing because we’re pretty much full capacity with the children in each room,” he said. “When we allow a runny nose in, when the family has done due diligence, taken a COVID test and it’s not COVID … that runny nose turns into a cold and suddenly we have one of our staff sick. Then we’re in trouble.”
Recently, he said, nine staff members were out sick after a child with a runny nose was admitted. However, since children also got sick and stayed home, there were still enough staff members to take care of the children who showed up.
“If we can’t find more staff to cover staff away sick, the alternative is closing a room, which means everyone loses out on care,” he said.
Boyd said there are 49 spots in the centre, divided into three rooms based on age. The centre needs at least three ECEs in each room, but ideally has four.
Back at the regular council meeting, council opted to resubmit its Childcare BC New Spaces Grant application, even though there is a miniscule chance it will be approved.
Chief administrative officer Nikki Gilmore was wary of reapplying, wondering whether it was the right time to put its initial application, with a rate of about $60,000 per childcare space, when the threshold is $40,000 per space.
“We’re wondering what benefit there might be to resubmitting when we know we don’t qualify,” she said. “We’re wondering if this is something we want to spend time on at this point, knowing we won’t get the funding.”
Richman highlighted that at a recent meeting with Minister of State for Child Care Katrina Chen, he brought up the failed application and stressed that the $40,000 limit is not doable in Pemberton with its construction and development costs.
“I’d like to continue fighting that fight,” he said.
Councillor Ted Craddock wondered if there was a chance to tap the province for the $40,000 offered while the VOP found the remaining $20,000 per spot.
“I don’t want to miss out on the 40 and wait a year or a year and a half to get these families support,” he said. “I think the community really needs that space if they’re going to get moms back to work and careers back on track.”
Borrowing would require alternative approval process or referendum, with the latter option generally tied to an election.
Coun. Ryan Zant, meanwhile, wondered how much staff effort would go into resubmitting. Gilmore said the process is through an online platform, and all fields will need to be filled out once again.
“We probably wouldn’t have a lot of changes, but it would be more than clicking ‘Send’ again,” she said. adding while there wouldn’t be any additional research, staff would want to confirm their facts.