As B.C. parents struggle with lack of child-care options, industry observers are lamenting limited federal government progress on a program that could bring in more caregivers from countries like the Philippines.
One official said shortage of child care has gotten so bad that many young B.C. families are resorting to hiring au pairs - temporary foreign domestic assistants - illegally.
While legal au pairs are often participants in the Working Holidays program that allows them to work in Canada temporarily, families are now hiring visitors on tourist visas - with no legal right to work in Canada - to fill their child-care needs.
"Families want to do it legally, but it has just become so difficult," said Manuela Gruber-Hersch, president of the Association of Caregiver and Nanny Agencies Canada. She added that the situation is exacerbated by the lack of clarity on a replacement of the Live-in Caregiver Program (LCP). Prior to its cancellation in 2014, LCP offered foreign domestic workers a direct path to permanent residency after their service.
Without the program, Canadian families must submit the normal work-permit application, which requires a costly and time-consuming labour market impact assessment. The complication has dramatically dampened the mood for B.C. families looking to hire foreign nannies - especially from the Philippines, where as many as 90% of B.C.'s domestic workers originate, Gruber Hersch estimated.
"The message is, we really need these caregivers because we have a shortage of Canadians who want to do this job," Gruber Hersch said.
The previous Conservative government closed the LCP to new applicants in November 2014, citing an application backlog that reached as high as 62,000 - among the highest in the entire Canadian immigration system. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada spokeswoman Shannon Ker said the ministry has reduced that backlog to about 9,700 as of July and has introduced two separate pilot programs for workers caring for children and patients with high medical needs.
She said the Caring for Children and Caring for People with High Medical Needs programs were launched as five-year pilots that expire in November 2019.
"The government is committed to ensuring that caregivers continue to have a pathway to permanent residence. An assessment is underway on both of these pilots ... [to] determine what pathway to permanent residence should be in place after that date."
There are 2,671 work-permit holders under the LCP in Canada.
Concerns about B.C.'s lack of affordable child-care options date back several years.
In 2015, a Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives report explored the need for a $10-a-day child-care program.
The report cited data from Quebec's publicly funded program, which - when extrapolated to B.C. - would translate to an annual $3.9 billion boost to the provincial economy if accessible child care is more available.
Gruber Hersch noted that adding more foreign domestic workers is another option that should be explored to reduce child-care costs - and therefore boost the economic contributions of young families at their workplaces.
She agreed that the previous LCP was flawed - with many abusing the system by using it as a loophole to get permanent residency in Canada - but she added that Ottawa should not throw out the baby with the bathwater.
"I think more families would consider this option again if the regulation is there," she said. "One thing that we've always asked for is the regulation of recruitment agencies, because most of the abuse in many programs is within the recruitment process."
Filipino-Canadian journalist Ted Alcuitas, who worked previously with the Philippine Women Centre of BC to advocate on behalf of temporary domestic workers from that country, said, "People want an affordable alternative to a national child-care program, but they are not willing to grant citizenship," he said. "But if you go to the North Shore, you have executives, female professionals who are able to work because they have domestic workers at home.... And it's not just child care. We are getting older; who's going to take care of us?"
The NDP minority provincial government ran its 2017 election on the promise of a $10-a-day child-care program, but changed the scope of the project during its budget announcement in February to a $1 billion, 10-year plan focused on subsidies.