On Friday May 28, I asked the Minister of Families (in Estimates) a series of questions related to her ministerial responsibilities - specifically on Child Care and Early Childhood Education, on Lead pipes at Child Care Centres and on Employment and Income Assistance. The Minister replied to me on Tuesday June 1. My questions and the Minister's reply are below (from Hansard).
Friday May 28: The Questions
Mr. Gerrard: Thank you. I'm going to briefly ask three quick questions for you, because of the limited time.
One is that the–there's a need for more staff in child care and early childhood education, and while there are many who are trained in this area, there's a problem with salaries being lower than they need to be. I know the minister has commented that this is the responsibility of the board of directors, but somewhere, somehow, one clearly needs to increase the salaries you're funding in order to be able to retain early childhood educators.
Second, there's a considerable concern about the length of time for people on EI to get EIA. There's about a two-week wait for people to get even an intake appointment, and there is a problem. Sometimes this can take much longer because people need to get identification through Vital Statistics and there's quite a long several-months delay there.
And also, that sometimes people, when they get an intake appointment, they give a phone number, but somebody who is, well, homeless or inadequately housed often doesn't have a phone, and so that about a third of the time, when the people call for–back for the intake appointment, I'm–understand that the person doesn't answer the phone and that the minister could, perhaps, look at some other way of approaching this so we don't miss so many people.
Third, I know that the–there's been money allocated to look after the removal and replacement of lead water pipes to child-care and early childhood centres, and I wonder how many child-care and early childhood education centres have such lead water pipes and how many have had their lead water pipes removed and replaced?
Tuesday June 1: The responses:
Hon. Jon Gerrard (River Heights): I had asked three questions the other day at the end, but wasn't able to get an answer because we ran out of time. I don't know if the minister remembers those questions and can provide answers or whether I need to repeat them again.
Ms. Squires: I appreciate MLA–the MLA's patience in receiving the answers to this.
Last night I was very pleased to meet with the subcommittee of the ministerial consultation table on early learning and child care, and one of the tasks that this subcommittee had is looking at that very issue regarding retaining and recruiting people and having a strong strategy for workforce retention.
And so they are tasked with that and will be working in collaboration with our government and other sector partners as well as other levels of government to ensure that we have a workforce strategy to ensure that ELCC is a robust sector that people want to work in and that they can stay in that sector and do the work that they love, as I find that most people who are working in that sector are attracted to the sector because they absolutely love the work.
And so I look forward to the work of this subcommittee. I look forward to receiving their report and acting on those recommendations.
In regards to the lead in drinking water in our child-care centres, I can confirm for the member that the Department of Conservation and Climate as well as Health are the lead in regards to the Auditor General's report on lead in drinking water.
But I can confirm for the member that we have had 29 per cent of our child-care centres participate in the voluntary testing program and we are working to ensure that we've got greater uptake from all of our child-care centres to get the testing for lead in drinking water and that the–there are only preliminary results coming in from the 29 per cent of the centres that have received the testing.
But I can confirm that there is a–there is going to be work that Conservation and Climate, and Health, will be the lead to not only increase the uptake but also to work with any centre that may have potentially higher than allowable amounts of lead in their drinking water to assist in those remediation efforts, and that he should watch for those announcements very soon.
Mr. Gerrard: I'd also asked about the length of time for people to get EI, and although there's a two-week wait for people to get an intake, sometimes things can take much longer because people need to get information–identification, for example, through Vital Statistics and there can be a several months' delay in getting that.
And the other problem is that people who call in for intake appointments may give a phone number, but somebody who's homeless or inadequately housed often doesn't have a phone, so that about a third of the time, I understand, when people call back for–to do the intake, that the person is not available to answer the phone for one reason or another. Maybe there's a way of addressing this.
Ms. Squires: I appreciate the member's patience; once again, I did forget; I was remiss in remembering his third question.
I can confirm for the member that we do expedite our intakes, that there isn't a wait-list per se, that as soon as an individual makes an application, if they are eligible they receive benefits right away. We do understand that there is sometimes a delay. We're trying to reduce those barriers for individuals so that they can get their benefits immediately when they need them.
I can also confirm that any delay–or there is never a delay regarding the delay in getting information from the Vital Statistics bureau. We understand that there are sometimes applicants who are requiring documentation and that there is a lag time or a wait time in getting those necessary documents from Vital Statistics, but that is not–that does not preclude them from receiving benefits. We will bring them into the benefits program and start providing them with those benefits, and then we will work with them individually so that they can make application to the bureau to get whatever documentation that they need.
And we are–we've opened up a call centre and trying to make it more easily available for applicants to talk to someone and make that application, and we've also kept our offices open and many of our employees, while they're seeing others across our province and across our country, have worked from home accommodations to keep themselves and their offices safe throughout the pandemic.
We know that that wouldn't work in many of our EIA offices, and so we had implemented some measures to ensure that our staff and our clients could be kept safe when they're in working in the office, but we've kept those front-facing offices open wherever possible, as much as possible, so that people who certainly may not have ready access to a telephone or other challenges, that they are getting that service that they need as quickly as possible.
But if the member has a specific incident or instance where he has–is working with an individual that is experiencing a delay, I'd be certainly more than willing to take a look at that and do a case review of that incident because we know that, now more than ever, we just need to lower our barriers and to provide services for individuals when they need them.