By Lethbridge Herald on January 31, 2024.
Alejandra Pulido-Guzman – LETHBRIDGE HERALD – email@example.com
More than a dozen childcare centres across the city closed Tuesday in support of the Alberta Association of Childcare Entrepreneurs, in a call on the provincial government to take action and address what they see as a restriction on how they run their businesses.
Almost 150 people including parents, children and childcare centre operators gathered outside City Hall Tuesday morning to voice their concern about the cost of childcare, holding signs and shouting “Quality childcare, at what cost?”
Event organizer and Narnia Learning Centre director Austin Goldie spoke about the reasons behind the centre closures planned by the AACE as a means to get the attention of the province.
“Instead of the sector improving with this government help that we received, it’s actually doing the opposite, it’s crumbling our sector and we need to really voice our concerns as far as helping the sector thrive, and help us to keep our autonomy and to keep us viable over the next year or longer,” said Goldie.
She said many centres are at risk of closing their daycares over the next month or two due to the lack of provincial funding.
“They’re lacking the funds and they’re lacking the autonomy to be able to operate, to offer things that they want in their centres, that they’ve always done,” said Goldie.
She said the affordability grant is placing childcare centre operators under stress, not only financially but also because they must put in extra hours of work to comply with the paperwork and other government demands to continue receiving funds.
“We do believe that there’s no sustainability in this program right now, and we’re urging the government to renegotiate. We’re also really eager to receive financial aid, financial emergency assistance, provincial financial assistance to those centres who are in tears because they are no longer being able to operate,” said Goldie.
She said the 30 to 45 day delays in reimbursement haven been detrimental with many centres taking out business loans just to stay afloat.
“I think we need to just meet in the middle, somewhere where we don’t lose our autonomy as private business owners, because it is our blood and sweat and tears in the businesses that we love so much, to be able to run it the way that we want, in the way that we know is working,” said Goldie.
She said for her centre, this means being able to offer things like multicultural snack days, bringing somebody in to do a workshop on baby sign language, doing workshops on how to sleep-train and baby-led weaning options.
“All of these extra enhanced services that we offer cost us so now we’re being forced to take away what makes us special, what makes us unique,” said Goldie.
A Lethbridge mother of two who was affected by the childcare centre closures Tuesday, Jennifer Vanderlaan said there are consequences to her family of not having available childcare.
“Nobody wants their daycare to all of a sudden close. I think as a parent you’re a bit conflicted because you wanted to support your daycare provider, which I do wholeheartedly, but also I’m a working parent and this is affecting us in the sense of who looks after our children for the day,” said Vanderlaan.
She said she and her husband do not have family in the city and therefore rely on childcare for their two children so they can work.
“It’s quite difficult to want to support and also have no childcare while you work,” said Vanderlaan.
She said she is fortunate to have an understanding employer – she works mostly with women, and they are very aware of the implications of motherhood.
“They are moms who know what it’s like when your kid gets sick, and that child is dropped on your lap and unfortunately women are often the ones who pick up the slack when it comes to sick kids, or this kind of thing, but some places I assume are not so understanding,” said Vanderlaan.
When it comes to her concerns about the potential cuts on services, she said she is mostly worried about food programs and things that enhance learning opportunities like arts and crafts.
Chair of the AACE, Krystal Churcher came from Calgary to support rally participants and said Lethbridge had by far the largest gathering as far as she knew.
“I am so grateful for everyone’s showing up today. The operators here obviously have a strong foothold in the community, really strong parents that were backing them and the passion to stand up,” said Churcher.
She said she is aware not all centre operators were feeling comfortable about speaking out because, according to her, the government had been spreading fear about closures.
“I know the ministry has been kind of fear-mongering a little bit around today, and I know a lot of our operators were scared to be on camera, or being public as they’re closing today, so it’s great when we see operators that are willing to bring a voice to this and it’ll give courage to everyone else in the future I hope,” said Churcher.
Federal Families Minister Jenna Sudds said she’s keeping a close eye on what’s happening in Alberta.
“All provinces and territories have signed onto these historic agreements to ensure that we can collectively move forward with building this national child-care system,” she told reporters Tuesday in Ottawa.
“We fully expect that all provinces and territories will execute on their agreements, they’ll follow through on the commitments and I’m sure Alberta will be no exception to that.”
Operators in multiple provinces have threatened to pull out of the national child-care system or even close their doors. They say the federal-provincial agreements limit the fees they can charge without enough support to cover all their costs.
Alberta Children and Family Services Minister Searle Turton said in an emailed statement that operators have his “full support” and he recognizes the “difficult situation” they are in. Both he and Premier Danielle Smith placed the blame back on the federal government.
-with files from The Canadian Press