The daycare debate took a personal twist Tuesday night when Councillor Ralph Forsyth stormed out of the public council meeting absolutely frustrated with the planned closure of Teddy Bear Daycare.
“God help us! What about the families in this town?” said Forsyth as he exited the theatre at MY Millennium Place.
Forsyth had brought up a motion for council to direct staff to negotiate with a third party operator to secure a long term lease for the Teddy Bear Daycare space inside MY Millennium Place, among other things.
But Councillor Eckhard Zeidler asked to postpone the motion so councillors could review the background information. All the other councillors around the table supported Zeidler’s suggestion, except Grant Lamont.
Immediately after the vote, Forsyth slammed down the screen of his laptop, ripped his computer chords from their sockets, and left the room.
“Councillor,” said Forsyth speaking directly to Zeidler as he packed his things, “you have assured the closure of the daycare.”
After Forsyth left, the remaining councillors continued to discuss his motion and whether Teddy Bear Daycare should remain open in MY Millennium Place.
“I am prepared to look at the direction he (Forsyth) wants to move on this,” said Zeidler.
“But for us to have made this motion tonight, in the absence of a reasonable amount of information that needs to be gathered, that motion would have failed. I suspect councillor Forsyth would have equally left the meeting at this point. This was an attempt, from my point, to salvage this discussion.”
Daycare continues to be a sensitive topic around Whistler, and many young families are having trouble finding adequate services for their children.
Last month, the Whistler Children’s Centre ended all programs at Spring Creek daycare as a cost-cutting measure. The closure directly affected 21 families.
The following week Teddy Bear operators Whistler Blackcomb announced the daycare will permanently close its doors on May 31, one month before its lease expires. The decision was made because the society operating MY Millennium Place confirmed it would not renew the lease, according to Otto Kamstra from Whistler Blackcomb.
Also, according to the Childcare Needs Assessment Report which council received earlier on Tuesday, Whistler only has daycare space for 6 per cent of the infants and toddlers in Whistler.
“Whistler is really at a crisis point for providing care for infants and toddlers,” said Roger Weetman, manager of recreational services for the municipality.
The report said in order to meet future childcare demands, 140 new infant and toddler spaces will have to be made in Whistler, along with 32 group daycare spaces and 45 school-aged childcare spaces.
The report, which was prepared before the Spring Creek facility closed, also recommended that both Teddy Bear and the Whistler Children Centre remain open.
After receiving the report, Forsyth said the childcare crisis is affecting his family as well.
“As a typical parent in Whistler right now, I can tell you I am not sure I am going to be able to come to this job between April and September until my child goes to school, because I have nowhere to put my kid,” said Forsyth.
Throughout the meeting, Mayor Ken Melamed reminded councillors that the municipality has delegated MY Millennium Place Society to operate MY Place.
“If council wants to take on the responsibility of operating this building and making decisions then that needs to be maintained through that lease process,” said Melamed.
Councillor Chris Quinlan brought up the point that a recent report done on MY Millennium Place suggested the daycare should be maintained until a better strategy can be found.
Following the lengthy discussion, council asked municipal staff to reexamine the lease options for the building.
“There are a whole bunch of reasons and ramifications (against changing the lease), but let’s just have a look at it,” said Zeidler.
Last year, MY Millennium Place Society decided its focus on arts and culture did not include daycare. But public outcry from local parents caused the society to allow a third-party to operate the service for a limited time period.