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Bill 47 - The Early Learning and Child Care Act

On Monday March 15, I had the  opportunity,  in the Manitoba Legislature, to ask questions to the  Minister about Bill 47, The Early Learning and Child Care Act, and then to speak  directly  to  the  bill and its implications.  My questions and comments are below (from Hansard).

Bill 47–The Early Learning and Child Care Act

Questions:

Hon. Jon Gerrard (River Heights): I have a two-part question, and the first is why the KPMG report has not been released when we're debating this bill already. This doesn't seem to make any sense.

      And second, how is the minister going to streamline the certification process for early learning and child-care providers? 

Ms. Squires: I did indicate on Friday that I would be  releasing the KPMG report along with the parent  survey that includes survey respondents–4,000 respondents–into our Manitoba EngageMB survey. I'd be releasing that within 30 days. I did need to give my department some time to collate those responses that we heard from families, and then we'll be releasing both of those reports at the same time.

      And I'd like to come back to his other question in my next–at my next opportunity.

Mr. Gerrard: Madam Speaker, let me go back to the second part of my first question, which was streamlining the certification process for early learning and child care.

      Precisely how will the minister do this?

Ms. Squires: Right. I want to thank the member for the question and his patience in allowing me an opportunity to get around and answer that question in the time allotted to me.

      So, as the member knows, right now there is a wide chasm between child-care aide and an ECE II,  with no ladders in between, and we just want to create the opportunity for there to be laddering for different entry points for people to enter the career if they wish to work in the sector. And this legislation is enabling legislation, but those details, of course, would be in regulations that we would work along with our–the ministerial consultation table, parent advisory councils, all–and all Manitobans.

Mr. Gerrard:  Just to follow up to my last question, I understand that right now, often, somebody who starts in child care, who may have a psychology degree, would be treated, from a salary prospective, the same as a health care–or a child-care aide.

      Is it the minister's intent, then, to change the funding ladder so that somebody who comes in, for example, with a psychology degree, would be treated as somebody who has more advanced knowledge than somebody with just a child-care aide?

Ms. Squires: I'd like to thank the member for that question. And that's exactly what we're trying to get at with Bill 47, is to create a framework that is more flexible and adaptive. And right now, there is very few entry points and there's very few adjustments to be made in that–the trajectory of a career in a child-care centre.

      We also know that–we've heard from some parents and some families who are saying that maybe that emphasis on early learning isn't as important in a before and after program as it is in an early–as it is in a preschool program, where their main source of learning would come from the child-care centre as opposed to–we know many of the before- and after-school kids are–they've had a full day in class and maybe they need other types of supervised activities.

      So we really do need to consult with the industry to learn more about the requirements.

 Mr. Gerrard: To the minister, I understand that it's the minister's intent to provide additional incentive guidance in terms of early learning. Could the minister clarify what additional early learning requirements there might be in child care?

Ms. Squires: Of course, I do not have the answer for  that, because we would be consulting with Manitobans, we would consult with the sector, my parent advisory council, the ministerial consultation table, which is comprised of sector leaders from the province, to gather and to provide advice to myself and my department, and as well as our qualifications team.

      There are a broad range of people that we would want to hear from before making any type of decision in that regard. And I certainly would also want to hear  input from the member for River Heights (Mr. Gerrard), as he has come to this floor with some good ideas from time to time and I really do look forward to hearing more of them on how we can make a more robust sector.

Mr. Gerrard: A follow up to one of my earlier questions. The minister may not have tabled a KPMG report, but perhaps the minister could explain how the KPMG report influenced the current legislation.

Ms. Squires: We received a lot of input from a lot of sources. This is something that is incredibly important that we get it right. I know myself, as having raised five children, I wouldn't have been able to go to work and I know that many people in this Chamber wouldn't have been able to go to work on a regular basis if it weren't for the commitment, the dedication, of our wonderful child-care sector.

      And we recognize the importance of having a strong sector, and so we've listened to input from a variety of sources in terms–and a variety of voices to make sure that we get it right.

Speech on Bill 47

Hon. Jon Gerrard (River Heights): Mr. Deputy Speaker, I would like to speak for a few minutes on Bill 47.

      It is surprising, to start with, that this bill has one of its main organizing approaches based on a report from KPMG. Furthermore, that report from KPMG is not available to us as we debate the bill. This is a little difficult to understand why this has happened because the bill was introduced at first reading November 2nd, and so the ministers had more than four months to get things together so that the KPMG report and the survey could be released when the bill is released, and we would be able to be in a better position to debate this legislation and discuss it. I hope that the minister releases the KPMG report and the survey material before it gets to committee stage because it would be really, really bad if that material is not available before it comes to committee.

      The second thing I want to talk about is the wait-lists. We all know that the length of the waiting list was atrocious under the NDP–that there were more than 15,000 children on the waiting list under the NDP government and that they never really made an attempt to address the need that was there. They did a little bit here and there, but they left a huge gap.

      The situation has not improved much under the Conservatives–we are still far short of the number of spaces that we need. The Conservatives seem to be ashamed of what's happening, so they have actually hidden the wait-lists and tried to cover up the fact that the need for child care is much greater than the number of child-care spaces available.

      It is estimated, based on that wait-list that we had in the past, that there's probably a need for another 15,000 spaces. We don't know for sure. That number is increasing as more women, in particular, would like to be in the workforce, and we want to create a society in Manitoba which is more equal and allows more women to be working, should they choose.

      Certainly, if we compare Manitoba to Quebec or to many countries in Europe, we are far short of the number of child-care spaces that we should have. That is a marker which we should be trying achieve, to have numbers of child-care spaces which are more compa­rable to countries in the Scandinavian countries, for example, which have much higher rates of child care and much more availability of child care.

      The goal, then, is not set in this legislation. It has not been set by this government. The government continues to fund new spaces, from what we can see, primarily using federal government funds, which, thankfully, are generous in these areas and are, thankfully, helping considerably.

      We're at a time now and in the coming months where the–our economy will be opening after the COVID‑19 pandemic, and at that point, we want to make sure that it is an economy which is welcoming to women, that–there's a feeling, generally speaking, that the COVID pandemic was harmful to the interests of many women and that more women than men lost jobs, and that we need to do a correction as we emerge from the COVID pandemic; whether it's in the next two or three months or in the next six months or in the next year.

      And in that respect, we need to be working very, very vigorously to increase the number of child-care spaces and to pay more attention to child care and to make sure that women have better opportunities. And in the long run, I think that this is better for our society. And we know, indeed, that there are many men who are participating more in looking after kids. But the bottom line is that we need to have more child‑care spaces. And we're not seeing here the sort of vision or goal that I would have expected, which would be to move us closer to 50,000 child-care spaces from where we are now, which is less than 35,000.

      All this being said, I asked questions about the streamlining of the certification process. What I heard, in terms of the streamlining, was positive.

      From what I've been hearing, in terms of some of the needs in child care, that there needs to be a slightly different ladder so that people, for example, who come in with a psychology degree or another advanced degree are actually recognized for that because that psychology degree can be very helpful, particularly on identifying children with behavioural learning problems.

      One of the marvellous things that can happen in early learning and child care is that children with learning or behavioural problems can be identified early and they can be helped.

      We know, for example, that children who have exposure to lead are children who are more likely to develop learning or behavioural problems. We also know that if they are identified early on that those children can be helped and some of the future problems and complications of lead toxicity can be avoided.

      So, this is an area where child care and early childhood education can play a major, major role, and it is really important that we have more psychologists who are knowledgeable about the behavioural issues and growth and development, and the learning issues of children are involved in child care.

      So, this has the potential to be a–an important step forward.

      I asked the minister in the question period about the approach to learning for children. The minister answered that she was still developing her ideas in this respect. It is little troubling that, since the bill was brought in at first reading more than four months ago on November the 2nd, that more has not been done in that time frame.

      It would have been nice to get more information on what the minister is planning, in terms of having enhanced learning for children in early learning and child care, and what that means.

      There is concern that this bill may favour attracting more for-profit child-care operations into Manitoba. While not everything that is for-profit is bad, there are concerns and concerns have been raised in the past in this area. And it is something that we will be watching, because the bottom line is the quality of early learning in child care, not necessarily the ownership, but the quality and the standards and making sure that our children are doing well.

      And I think it's quite important that we have a child-care system which is really, really good, because you can make an extraordinary difference for children if you help them early on. It can make a difference that lasts a lifetime; it can change and improve a child's life trajectory; it can make a big difference. So getting this right is very, very important.

      It was disappointing to see the current govern­ment provide expired masks to child-care centres. I think that's quite disappointing that they wouldn't consider the child-care centres more important than this–just to have discarded–expired masks.

      It is important in the development of our child-care system that we have a system which provides salaries which are more competitive and which attract and retain workers. I've heard far too many stories of people who are working in child care moving on to become, for example, educational assistants in the educational system because they could earn more money there.

      We need to emphasize the importance of early learning and child care and getting it right. There are numerous, numerous studies which have shown a big difference if you can help children early on. It can make a lifetime of difference; it can mean that they do better; it means that they have less interaction with the criminal justice system, for example, and do better in school.

      So, let's focus in a major way on child care and early childhood education in Manitoba. Let's reap the benefits from that. Studies have shown in some instances a return of $7 for every dollar invested in child care and early childhood education. Let's get it right. Let's help children all over Manitoba get off to a–the best possible start that they can. It will make a big difference to all of us, and it will save money down the road, and it will increase the prosperity of Manitoba by having children who got a good start and who do well and learn well as they grow up.

      Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to put these remarks on the record. Merci, miigwech.

 

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