By Alison Taylor
Council has come through with $78,000 in emergency funding for the Whistler Children’s Centre, but it is not happy about it.
Mayor Ken Melamed said he was horrified to be put in the position of funding the day care in light of budget cuts from the federal government.
“I’m insulted by their approach,” said the mayor of the federal Conservative government.
“I don’t want to wear that tag, that I’m anti-children… anti-family.”
But the news of the emergency funding, which translates to $6,500 per month for up to one year, comes as welcome relief to the centre’s acting director Kari Gaudet.
“It’s fantastic news,” she said, upon learning of council’s decision Tuesday morning.
“The $78,000 is the approximate loss we will see in government funding this year. Therefore, the RMOW’s contribution will buy us time. It will give us the opportunity to further look at our operations and make the necessary changes to ensure we can handle the government cutbacks.”
The federal government cancelled the 2005 Early Leaning and Child Care Agreement, representing a loss of $455 million over the next three years. That means childcare operators will receive an average of $40 less per month per child.
Instead, the money will flow directly to parents through a $100 per child Universal Child Benefit. Ottawa expects parents to use the taxable $100 benefit to offset the lack of subsidization.
Council also committed to be a part of lobby efforts to the Union of B.C. Municipalities as it appeals to the province to protect childcare.
Local MLA Joan McIntyre however feels the province has been unfairly criticized.
“Right now we have honoured everything the province was doing, so we have no cutbacks,” she said. “And not only that, we spent $203 million on childcare last year and it is going up in this year’s budget to $260 million. There’s a $57 million lift.
“We are not cutting back on childcare.”
Councillor Ralph Forsyth was the only member of council to oppose Monday night’s decision. He appealed to council to fund the centre’s full ask of $100,000.
“Whistler continues to hemorrhage young families,” said Forsyth, who is the only member of council with young children using the day care.
He said his childcare bills are his second highest cost in Whistler.
“Day care needs to be affordable in order for the resort to be sustainable,” he said. “To say we’re concerned about resident affordability and not support the day care is laughable.”
He urged council not to use children as a pawn in a game with the government, by sending a message that Whistler is only willing to fund the budget cuts and not anything more.
But council was not convinced.
Mayor Melamed took issue with Forsyth’s comments.
“Our children are our most important asset,” Melamed asserted, adding that it is not appropriate for local government to be funding day care.
Councillor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden took the same position.
“I don’t think funding day care is a municipal responsibility,” she said.
She explained that the children’s centre needed an extra $22,000 from a previous year’s deficit. That money is not directly attributable to the funding cuts.
The centre’s operating deficit is a problem, said Gaudet.
On Monday Gaudet met with the B.C. Minister of State for Child Care, Linda Reid, in Whistler.
She said Reid highlighted the fact that the Whistler centre operates much differently from many centres in the Lower Mainland that require families to keep their child enrolled in the day care until they go to kindergarten.
“With our families up here we try to be so accommodating to everyone’s different schedules, for those that work on the mountain and are off in the summer and if the season starts a bit slower,” said Gaudet. “We are very flexible with everyone’s enrolment. But it’s getting to a point where we just can’t be.
“It’s difficult to try to be everything for everyone.”
They are now examining the programs offered at the Whistler Children’s Centre as well as the hours of operation and the fees. Gaudet was hesitant to go into details this week until all the parents are notified.
The board of the centre is also looking for long-term funding solutions.
Gaudet is in discussions with municipal staff examining how to make the centre more sustainable.
“This is a service that our community does need,” she said. “If we had to close our doors I think it would be drastic for most employers in the corridor.”