Parents of child who died in Vancouver daycare call for massive reform

The parents of a toddler who died in a Vancouver daycare earlier this year are calling for massive reform of B.C.'s daycare system following yesterday's federal funding announcement.

In the budget the federal government committed $7 billion over the next 10 years to create new and affordable child-care spaces.

Although specific details on how this funding would roll out have not been released, the announcement has some daycare advocates calling for it to be used to reform B.C.'s system.

Shelley Sheppard and Chris Saini's 15-month-old son Macallan Wayne Saini died in an accident at a daycare on Jan. 18, 2017.

The exact circumstances of Macallan's death are still under investigation, but the grieving parents say the daycare industry needs to be more affordable and accountable.

"Simply throwing money at the problem to create more spots in an unsafe and poor quality system is not the answer," said Saini, in statement on Wednesday.

"We need a comprehensive and effective plan to make daycare about quality education, safety, accessibility and affordability."

The couple have specifically endorsed the $10-a-day child care system put forward by the NDP and other advocates.

3 major issues

Across Canada the daycare industry is provincially regulated although the federal government provides some funding.

In B.C., daycare centres only need a licence if they have three or more children who are not siblings in their care. Costs are not capped and parents are generally charged market rates.

In Vancouver, waitlists can be years long and average daycare costs can top $1,400 per month.

Childcare advocates say there are three major issues facing B.C.'s childcare: a shortage of daycare spaces, expensive costs, and inadequate pay for daycare workers.

David Macdonald, a senior economist for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, says it's likely only one of those areas — increasing the number of daycare spaces — will be alleviated with this new federal funding.

"In provinces like Quebec and Manitoba where the fees are capped, there may be some some interest in reducing the fees parents pay. In provinces where it's a market system like British Columbia, it's unlikely the funding will be used to reduce fees because the province doesn't control the fees — there's no mechanism to do so," he explained.

B.C. Finance Minister Mike de Jong said as much yesterday, saying while the province was still going through the deal, the focus would likely be on the creation of new childcare spaces.

Time to be 'vigilant'

Sharon Gregson, a spokesperson for the $10 a Day Child Care campaign, says there is a way for the federal government to make sure all three issues are addressed.

She says there should be "strings attached" to the funding to ensure that the money wouldn't only be used to increase spaces but also improve affordability for parents.

"In the past, B.C. has spent childcare dollars on car seats and immunizations — important things but not child care.  This time we have to be vigilant and ensure that the bilateral and multilateral agreements that are being negotiated have accountability measures built in," she said.

Sheppard and Saini, who say their advocacy is still new, say they will continue fighting for those changes.

Correction : An earlier version of this story said Quebec and Ontario had capped daycare fees. In fact, it is Quebec and Manitoba, not Ontario, that have capped daycare fees.(Mar 23, 2017 4:23 PM)