'Demonized by the federal government': Local MP advocates for for-profit childcare operators

Gray advocates for operators

Allegations of high-income families in the Central Okanagan pushing out lower-income families in the battle for affordable childcare spaces were brought up in the House of Commons recently.

Kelowna-Lake Country MP Tracy Gray addressed Bill C-35, the Canada Early Learning and Childcare Act, on May 31.

She sits on the Standing Committee for Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and Status of Persons with Disabilities (HUMA), which studied Bill C-35 before it was sent back to the House of Commons for third reading.

In her speech, Gray took aim at the Trudeau government’s deals with the provinces, including the one that offers $10 a day childcare in B.C., and the focus on government-run and not-for-profit providers. She claims leaving out the private sector creates a two-tiered system.

“I spoke to many child care operators in my community of Kelowna—Lake Country, who said that there have been unintended consequences,” said Gray, who alleged that small business owners have been demonized.

“Many childcare providers are women who start a small business. One operator said she felt like she was being demonized by the federal government because she was operating as a small business. This is another example of this Liberal government not considering small businesses a priority.”

Gray told Castanet that she has concerns that a National Advisory Council on Early Learning and Childcare is also completely focused on government and not-for-profit operators.

“This council will be giving feedback to the government and have regular engagement and discuss all kinds of things, and yet a huge group of childcare providers won’t be even at that table. And that’s another concern we had,” she said, noting that an amendment to broaden the scope was voted down by the Liberal majority on the HUMA committee.

When it comes to the topic of waiting lists, in her speech on May 31, Gray suggested $10 a day spots are not necessarily being reserved for those with the greatest need.

“I have been told by providers in my community that there are many scenarios playing out. One, in particular, is where high-income families are paying for spaces while pregnant, because it is so inexpensive to hold the space for their family. The lower-income and middle-class families who need the spaces are not getting them, and the whole format of waiting lists has changed. There is serious concern about the lack of focus on ensuring that child care spaces go to those most in need instead of creating advantages for the already well off. “

The federal government has signed five-year agreements with most of the provinces, even before passing bill C-35. Gray wants to ensure that private sector providers aren’t pushed to the side again when the deals come up for renegotiation.

Earlier this year there was an uproar when Building Blocks Educare, a daycare operator of 15-years with two locations serving hundreds of families in Kelowna, sold its operations to ProducKIDvity. One of the campuses was slated for closure. At the other location, while Building Blocks parents were given first right of refusal, some alleged they were pressured to pay higher fees.

A report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives on what it termed "childcare deserts" pointed out that Kelowna had only 3.4 childcare spaces for every 10 children below school age.

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