Child care key to affordability, says minister, as she tours Okanagan – Vernon News

B.C.’s Minister of State for Child Care says affordable, quality child care is a key element of broader affordability issues including housing in hot markets like the Okanagan.

Katrina Chen kicked off a three-day tour of the Valley, Monday, during which she will meet with local child-care providers in Vernon, Kelowna and Penticton.

“Child care is key to affordability,” Chen told Castanet in an exclusive interview.

“Families could be paying more than their rent or mortgage for child care,” she said.

Chen said B.C.’s NDP government is in its fifth year of a 10-year child care plan, and part of the reason for her tour is to see how progress is being made on the ground.

“We need to make child care more accessible to keep parents in the workforce,” she said.

Over the past four years, about 1,600 child-care spaces have been added in the Okanagan, and more are coming.

“It takes time to build a new model and to staff it,” said Chen. “Child care is a very labour-intensive industry.”

Her visit comes as Vernon is in the midst of construction of two new, large child-care centres, both of which are partnerships with the city.

Centres at the Lakers Clubhouse and Vernon Recreation Centre will have almost 200 child-care spots.

The two projects total $7 million and are scheduled to open this fall.

Chen said she’s happy to see local governments get involved.

“When we started this plan, we heard local governments had never really thought about child care before,” she said. “Now, we are seeing more and more interest.

She said government research estimates that for every dollar invested in child care, $2.60 is generated in economic return and that her ministry is hearing from chambers of commerce across B.C. that improved child care results in greater employee retention.

“We are building quality, long-term assets that will be put to use for generations.”

As previously announced, Chen said B.C. parents can expect the average daycare bill to be cut in half by this fall as more measures come in place. More details are expected in September, but the step follows earlier measures taken in 2018 and 2019, such as the $10-a-day program and income-tested child-care assistance.

“It’s a big change for B.C. families,” she said. “Can you imagine cutting a $1,500 monthly bill in half?”

The changes will bring the average cost of daycare in B.C. to about $20 a day.

“We know child care is critical,” she said. “We know it’s connected to the housing crisis … There is lots more work to do, but we are changing the thinking that child care should be on the backs of parents.

“It is slowly becoming a core service families can count on, just like school.”

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