Quebec’s long day care shadow 

Childcare lessons for British Columbia are many, say advocates

Seldom do Western Canadians look east with much other than resentment - unless, of course, they happen to hail from those parts and are headed home. Moreover, there are few people west of Manitoba - or anywhere else in Canada, really - who would turn specifically to Quebec with much more than a cold shoulder, again unless they happen to have fleur de lys license plates rattling around in the backs of their trunks. That's the rent-by-region nature of the country.

And yet, there's a core of Western Canadians who have wide eyes cast east - the early childhood education and childcare set. Quebec's childcare system has long been the envy of the rest of Canada, and in British Columbia perhaps more so than elsewhere.

Low wages after a long educational slog, high child vulnerability, care spaces lost behind locked doors - it goes on. And then on some more. And yet, much of it can be summarized in one statistic. According to Julia Black, an early childhood educator and instructor at Capilano University, Canada's infant mortality rate has risen to five per cent in recent years, and B.C. is almost on par with 4.4 per cent.

Black brought those numbers to a recent childcare panel in Squamish. She was joined by Stephanie Seaman, chair of the B.C. Government and Services Employees Union (BCGEU) local; Hilary Bloom, children's librarian and mother; and Suzie Samon, director of early childhood development for Sea to Sky Community Services (SSCS).

"The strength of community development and economic development depends on our children and families," Black said. "The strength of our children depends on our families. The strength of your families depends on our leaders. In communities, we are all interconnected."

The notion of strong leadership was raised several times throughout the evening. Seaman, who has spent time in New Zealand, framed the country as well ahead of Canada on account of that government's move to recognize the rights of a child. When the law was made, said Seaman, women occupied leadership positions, not least of which was the highest office.

With a provincial election around the corner, these women are encouraging people to pepper their politicians with demands for childcare commitments. Moderator Andrea Duncan recently made her way to Squamish council chambers, where local politicians favoured the proclamation of Social Services Awareness Month, which happened in conjunction with National Public Works Week. In the background, news of Whistler's Teddy Bear and Spring Creek daycare closures has been making headlines, and presumably drawing eyeballs.

And yet, there were far more coffee cups than members of the audience at the panel discussion. Less than 12 people showed up, though advertising for the event was admittedly low key.

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