The City of Grande Prairie wants to expand childcare spaces by attracting new providers, supporting staff recruitment and advocating local childcare needs to the province.
City administration and the mayor have been meeting with childcare providers across the city and listening to their concerns and challenges to identify how to best advocate on their behalf.
“The only issue that I saw that isn't being addressed through the provincial or federal government, that was a funding issue, was the potential to support level one childcare providers,” said Mayor Jackie Clayton.
“Those level ones and twos at an entry-level position are barely paid what we would consider a living wage.”
Early childhood educators (ECE) have three levels of certification with level 1 being the lowest and requiring a single course to be taken to receive the certification.
Terri Beaupre, the city’s executive consultant of strategic initiatives, said there is funding for individuals looking to take the next steps to the ECE levels 2 and 3. She said the city has been working with Northwestern Polytechnic (NWP) to ensure those courses are available.
Still, the mayor believes there is an opportunity for the federal and provincial governments to support level 1 workers, but they need to find a “trigger point” for governments to respond.
Clayton says she plans to bring the concerns to Children and Family Services Minister Searle Turton soon so childcare workers “at a minimum make a living wage.”
City council directed the mayor and administration to build an advocacy plan to support childcare services in the community in March.
“I am really glad we're looking at this because I think that's one of the biggest issues in our community for both quality of life and the economy and for attracting people,” said Coun. Dylan Bressey.
Programs such as the provincial and federal $15/day childcare programs appear to be benefiting the region.
“Affordability hasn't been the concern we're hearing in the community; it's the number of spaces,” said Clayton.
Access to information for funding for renovations and employee support was also among the concerns heard by the mayor in speaking with providers.
Coun. Grant Berg asked about the status of Dave Barr Community Centre’s childcare space.
The city previously provided childcare services at the community centre but ceased operations in June 2020.
Clayton says a request for proposal (RFP) was put out to find a service provider. A city report says the process concluded on Aug. 22, and city administration is currently in the evaluation phase of finding a provider.
A city report says the Dave Barr Community Centre’s space could provide over 60 new childcare spots. “I wonder if we should consider in the future doing a daycare for city staff,” said Bressey.
He said a daycare would ensure city staff’s children are out of the current market, making more room for others, and may help with city employment recruitment. He believes the venture could be revenue-neutral as well.
Clayton said some businesses within the city have had similar thoughts on providing their own daycare services for employees, most notably Alberta Health Services (AHS).
The mayor also noted that conversations with providers looking to offer 24-hour childcare are ongoing, noting that one provider looking at Grande Prairie recently opened a facility in Fort McMurray.
“They're still looking to expand; I've had multiple conversations with them since our original contact, and they are still very interested in this market,” said Clayton.
Council approved a bylaw in October last year to allow such facilities.
Beaupre says 24-hour service is needed in the community and would support shift workers and health care professionals' retention and attraction.
She hopes to see a facility offering that service in the city within six months to a year.
Jesse Boily, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Town & Country News