Jennie Stevens says province needs to address early childhood educator shortage as well as high costs.
St. Catharines MPP Jennie Stevens is echoing the demands of both St. Catharines city council and Niagara Region by calling on the province to work with the federal government to implement its childcare strategy in Ontario.
But in addition to making childcare more affordable, Stevens told the legislature the shortage of early childhood educators also needs to be addressed.
“It is clear the cost of doing nothing while playing politics is way too high,” Stevens said in question period at Queen’s Park Monday, broadcast on the legislative assembly website.
“The municipality is flagging that childcare providers in Niagara are operating at 50 per cent staff capacity, so when you talk about adding childcare spaces and tax credits this ignores the problem at hand.”
She said it is no wonder “Ontario has the highest childcare fees in this country,” as pediatricians continue to highlight the importance of good childcare.
“Families need support urgently,” she said.
“We know that childcare will receive increased funding when the premier finally gets to work and makes a deal, so why is Ontario not acting today to correct the low wage workforce that has led to the staffing crisis in Niagara?”
In his response, Education Minister Stephen Lecce agreed with Stevens while putting the blame for the high cost of childcare on the previous provincial government.
“It is true, the member is right, childcare is inaccessible and unaffordable for too many Canadians. Under the former Liberal government, childcare rose 40 per cent above the national average. We know that is unacceptable,” Leece said, adding the Tories introduced a childcare tax credit and increased it by 20 per cent to help address the high prices families are paying.
“We’re committed to getting a deal. We’re working with the federal government this week, we’re meeting with them with the aim to land a fair deal for the people we serve — one that is accessible, one that is sustainable and flexible to support all parents of this province.”
In an interview, Stevens said she’s pleased to hear the province is “finally” planning to meet with the federal government to work towards implementing its $10 per day childcare plan.
“It’s been a long time coming,” she said.
However, she said, staff shortages also need to be addressed to ensure services can be provided to families that need it.
For instance, she said, Niagara childcare service provider A Child’s World was forced to cut 293 childcare positions in June due to staff shortages and difficulties replacing qualified workers.
“We need early childhood educators more so than spaces. … There’s no childcare without ECEs. The workers are the system and much needed,” Stevens said.
“Really what’s needed is an action plan for families in Niagara. They need this provincial government and the federal government to negotiate an action plan to staff childcare programs. We need funds, but we also need staffing to be beefed up.”
She said providing tax breaks to help families “pay for nonexistent childcare spots is kind of short-sighted and unproductive.”
It’s an investment in the province’s economy by allowing more women to enter or return to the workforce.
“It’s terrible. It’s in crisis,” Stevens said.
“Let’s make sure this government is finally going to sit down and commit that they are going to basically come in with an action plan and plan to staff these childcare spots.”