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Peterborough child care operators refuse to reopen until province reinstates funding

Child care workers rally outside Peterborough-Kawartha MPP Dave Smith's office on Friday morning about the short notice to reopen.
Child care workers rally outside Peterborough-Kawartha MPP Dave Smith's office on Friday morning about the short notice to reopen. Steve Guthrie/Global News Peterborough

Nearly a dozen child care centres in the Peterborough area say they will not be reopening amid relaxed coronavirus lockdowns until the province meets conditions over funding.

On Friday morning, a rally of staff representing child care and daycare centres gathered outside Peterborough-Kawartha MPP Dave Smith’s constituency office. Approximately 60 were in attendance and an estimated 1,800 participated in an online broadcast of the protest.

READ MORE: Peterborough daycare unable to reopen, says province needs to offer more guidance and funding

On Tuesday, the province announced child care centres closed at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic could reopen on Friday.

Coronavirus outbreak: Education Minister says plan for reopening child-care centres will ‘keep kids safe’
Coronavirus outbreak: Education Minister says plan for reopening child-care centres will ‘keep kids safe’

However, the board of directors for 11 centres from Peterborough and Peterborough County say they are deferring reopening until the following conditions are met:

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  • Reinstatement of funding to cover all costs during the closure period, including staff wages;
  • A base funding model that would cover reopening costs for extra staffing, reduced fee income, cleaning supplies, personal protective equipment, alternate materials and staff training.

The demands come from the following centres:

  • Peterborough: All Seasons Learning Centre; Centre Éducatif Les Petits Curieux; Compass Early Learning and Care; Nursery Two Child Care; Northview Day Care and Nursery School; Strath MacLean Child Care Centre; Sunshine Child Care and Trent Child Care
  • Keene: Northern Lights Children’s Daycare Centre
  • Buckhorn: Buckhorn Daycare
  • Norwood: Hucklebug Child Care Centre

“Child care operators across the province have partnered with the Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care and the Association of Early Childhood Educators of Ontario, and were involved in the production of an excellent reopening plan,” stated Sheila Olan-MacLean, CEO of Compass Early Learning & Care president of the Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care.

“Despite this input, the provincial government made the decision to reopen with very little notice, a lack of consultation by experts, and without addressing the retroactive funding decision that has left child care organizations across the province in a deficit position, after asserting that child care was a priority, and staff should be retained.”

Olan-MacLean says all licensed child cares in Ontario receives funding to subsidize parent fees. She claims a memo from the Ministry of Education in late March from the municipalities indicated funding would continue.

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READ MORE: Coronavirus: Most child-care centres in Ontario unlikely to reopen on Friday, operators and advocates say

She says several organizations continued to pay their staff and home child care providers, however, 10 weeks into the closure the province announced a “sustainability plan” for child care.

“Which retroactively prohibited any provincial funding from being used for staff wages and allowed for only a very narrow definition of fixed costs (not including wages),” said Olan-MacLean.

“Municipalities were then told staff wages could only come from municipal and federal funding, however, we are hearing that municipalities are unsure if they have the funds to support this plan, leaving child care organizations with unexpected deficits and no ability to reopen.”

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She says while they want to reopen centres to families, they want it done safely.

“To provide a healthy, joyful space for children to spend their days. This is not possible without sufficient funding,” she said.

Global News Peterborough has reached out to Smith for comment. He was not in attendance at the rally.

A representative for Smith’s office said Smith was unavailable as he is sitting in the Standing Committee on General Government until late Friday night.

UPDATE at 4:10 p.m., Smith’s office provided the following statement:

“Our government has made a commitment to protect the safety of our children and the financial interests of families. That is why we unveiled a plan that will enhance health protocols, keep students safe, and not impose higher fees on working parents,” Smith stated.

“Our plan was reviewed by the best medical and scientific minds in Ontario, imposing the strictest standards to keep our children safe. Education Minister Stephen Lecce and I know that child care is critical to our economic recovery. That is why the Ministry of Education is providing more financial support and guidance to childcare operators to ensure a sustainable sector, it is also why the government is providing clear health guidance to ensure our staff and kids remain safe.”

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Smith provided the following response when asked about reinstatement of funding to cover all costs during the closure period – including staff wages – before they reopen.

“If these operators used the federal funding provided (federal wage subsidy) for salary top-ups – staff wages would have indeed been covered during this closure period. The province’s financial stabilization for the sector was done so by leveraging federal supports.”

Smith said funding to cover reopening costs such as extra staffing, cleaning supplies, PPE and staff training are all covered by provincial funding.

“The details of this funding were provided to operators in writing yesterday,” Smith stated.

 

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More to come.