Nanaimo city councillors voted in favour of applying for a provincial grant that will provide funding to help identify child care spaces in the community. (News Bulletin file)

City of Nanaimo wants to examine child care availability

Council votes to apply for provincial grant, but not all members of council agree

The City of Nanaimo could soon have a better understanding of how many child care spaces exist and how many more are needed within the community.

Nanaimo councillors voted 6-2 in favour of applying for a grant from the provincial government’s community child care planning program, which if successful, would see the city receive at least $25,000 in order to develop a child care space creation plan.

According to a staff report, the city would be required to identify existing child care facilities within the community, create an inventory of existing child care spaces, identify targets for child care spaces over a 10-year period and develop strategies to meet those targets.

The Union of Municipalities of British Columbia would be responsible for administering the money, according to the report, which states that the city would hire a consultant to complete the majority of the work required. An estimate of how much a consultant would cost is not provided.

Money received from the child care planning program could be used to cover the costs associated with consultant costs, incremental staff costs and public information costs such as translation fees, according to the provincial government.

The city would be eligible for at least $25,000. However, it could grow as high as $125,000 if other local governments decide to submit a joint application with the city.

Dale Lindsay, the city’s director of community development, told councillors that the city would take the lead role and is looking for other partners.

“We are actively discussing with other member municipalities within the regional districts who may want to participate,” he said.

Coun. Ian Thorpe said on Monday he couldn’t support submitting an application, calling the program a “Trojan horse with a baited hook of $25,000” and the first step by the province to download child care services onto the city.

“If we take the bait we are going to be on the hook for assuming responsibility, to some degree, for providing child care, which is not a municipal function,” he said.

Thorpe said based on his interpretation of the report, the money isn’t “simply for a needs assessment” and the city will be required to have a detailed child care plan that must be supported with “sufficient” resources. He also said the province isn’t guaranteeing future funding for municipalities that participate in the program.

“When I add those things together I see us being asked to take the first step towards assuming a provincial responsibility” he said.

Officials from the provincial government have been “actively” lobbying for the program to elected officials through e-mails and calls to elected officials, according to Thorpe, who called the actions unusual and inappropriate. He said an assessment of child care needs in the city is acceptable, but the idea developing and funding a plan is something he cannot support.

“I would have no problem with an assessment of child care needs in our community, but to go beyond that and suggest that we need to develop an action plan and be prepared to support that with funding down the way, I will not support,” he said.

Coun. Sheryl Armstrong also said she couldn’t support the program for same reasons as Thorpe, adding that she has concerns about the “liability” to the city.

However, Coun. Tyler Brown said he is supportive of the program, adding that child care spaces are “badly needed” throughout the province. He said it is expected that in order to receive funding, a plan would need to be developed.

“Often if you want to get the stream of funding to fund those particular programs you do need to have a plan in place that shows the need and how it could be delivered,” he said.

Coun. Erin Hemmens said she didn’t believe the report required the city to create an action plan, suggesting it was only advising of eligible uses for the money.

Coun. Don Bonner said he hadn’t interpreted the report from the perspective that Thorpe had and while he didn’t agree with Thorpe’s view, he appreciated the points raised. He said he believes child care is a municipal issue even though it’s handled by the provincial government.

“If the problem exists in our town it is our issue because it does take a village to raise a child and I think we can be somehow responsible, or at least find ways to make sure that we have more child care space in our town,” Bonner said.

Mayor Leonard Krog said councillors shouldn’t look a “gift horse in the mouth,” adding that while he agreed with Thorpe’s concerns, he was supportive of the program.

Councillors Thorpe and Armstrong voted against the motion. Coun. Jim Turley was absent.


nicholas.pescod@nanaimobulletin.com

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