Excerpt from “Debates & Proceedings” –
1st Session – 27th Legislature of the Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan
N.S. Vol. 54 – No. 3A Wednesday, December 7, 2011 1:30 p.m.
Ms. Chartier: — One more time, Mr. Speaker. So today I’m going to cover or I’ll briefly mention some gaps in the government’s speech which my colleagues, I think, have spoken to very well. But my focus today is going to be on one key area, supporting families in their caregiving needs, one area in which this government, I think, is squandering a prime opportunity to put the infrastructure in place to ensure employees have access to the workforce they need . . . employers have access to the workforce they need to maintain and grow their operations. Our youngest citizens have the opportunity to be in the best possible loving, enriching, and supportive care when their parents cannot be there, and most importantly, enhance the lives of all our citizens.
But first, I have to dispense with some thank yous. And I also actually want to congratulate all the members on both sides of the House on their successful elections in their respective communities. And a big thank you to all the candidates who let their name stand. It isn’t an easy feat, I think we all know, to put your name out there and put your name on a ballot. And I think we all have different philosophies or our differences are philosophical in here, but ultimately those who put their names forward, we all want to see a better Saskatchewan. We don’t always have the same means to get there, but I think we all have the best intentions. So I just say thank you to all the candidates who let their names stand.
I want to give the biggest congratulations to all the new members. I was only there myself two years ago and I know that you’ll all be trying to figure out the lay of the land and how this all works. But trust me, you’ll figure it out pretty fast and it gets easier.
I want to say thank you to the good folks of Saskatoon Riversdale for trusting me for yet another term to bring their concerns to this Legislative Assembly. I’ll continue to work hard and do my very best to ensure your voices are heard in this legislature and your issues are addressed by this government.
I want to say thank you to my fabulous campaign team and all our wonderful volunteers who helped get me here. We chose, in Saskatoon Riversdale, to go with a less experienced and a greener team. Our goal was to bring some youthful voices to our campaign team and to build some capacity for the future. So everyone in our campaign was new to their respective roles and did such a fine job. So I want to say thank you to Tracey, Ferron, Mark, and Vanessa.
On the volunteer side of things, we had a nice blending of long-time Saskatoon Riversdale workers, some great folks who came aboard in the by-election in 2009, and some brand new volunteers who joined us for the first time. So again, I just want to say thank you to the staff and volunteers for their commitment to social democratic values and their desire to fight for social, economic, and environmental justice.
For many of us, I think for all of us, family plays a big role in helping us to be able to do this job. But as a mom of two children, one of them who happens to be a freshly minted four-year-old as of Saturday, having a strong support network isn’t just nice, it’s absolutely imperative.
So part of that support network is my husband Blair who two years ago stepped back from his own full-time employment when I was first elected and stepped into the role of parent at home. As many of us who have been that parent at home, it’s not an easy job. It’s pretty wonderful, but it’s not easy. So I really appreciate that Blair has done that for our family.
I want to say thank you to my girls, Hennessey and Ophelia, who are both amazing troopers. And they do put up with the downside of this job, having a mom who is not always around when they need me. Whenever I talk about my kids, I get a little sensitive. This happens to be the first time my husband and my youngest haven’t joined me here in Regina. So it’s been a bit of a long week, and we’ll see how next week goes. Ophelia has a life of her own now. She’s in pre-K, a francophone pre-K, five afternoons a week and starting to have her own life. And I didn’t think she was keen on hanging out in Regina waiting to see Mom whenever I might have a little bit of free time. So I will see how the rest of this week and next week go.
But I do have a wonderful support network, as I said, which includes
my husband, but it also includes my sister, Michelle, and my parents,
who go above and beyond the call of duty to be helpful and to be
able to put my mind at ease. So I want to say thank you to them
for making it possible for me to be able to do this job.
So, Mr. Speaker, with respect to the Throne Speech, where are some of the gaps I mentioned earlier? This one particular one doesn’t go to the specific contents of the government agenda, but there was something in the conclusion that jumped out at me on Throne Speech day and speaks volumes about this government’s approach to some of its citizens.
We were reminded, we were reminded that our seats in this legislature are on loan and purchased with the blood of our soldiers and the toil of our settlers. Indeed this is true. But I would like to add that our First Nations and Métis citizens are a big part of this picture too, Mr. Speaker, an important part of our shared history of our fine province and need to be acknowledged for this. They also need to be included in our shared future and as active and full partners. I don’t believe this government or this Throne Speech fully recognizes this.
The word homelessness was also a word absent from the Throne Speech, but it is a real and pressing issue here in our province. Some of my colleagues and I had the opportunity last week to hear a presentation about Housing First, an approach to housing that ensures people have an adequate roof over their heads so they can begin to address some of the issues that led to their homelessness in the first place: addictions, abuse, mental health issues. In fact the presenter, Tim Richter, made very well the point that a boom town economy accelerates homelessness more than anything else, and Saskatchewan should be primed to tackle this growing problem that costs us all, both economically and socially.
Housing First has worked elsewhere. It’s worked very well in fact in Calgary in decreasing homelessness, and everyone there has gotten on board — the business community, municipalities, the provincial government, community organizations. They all recognize it’s cheaper to address homelessness than to ignore it. I would argue, Mr. Speaker, that we can’t say we have a comprehensive housing plan unless we have a plan to address homelessness. Currently this government has no such plan.
There are indeed other gaps in this government’s approach, Mr. Speaker, and in this Throne Speech. But I do want to take a few minutes to address the lack of support for families when it comes to their caregiving needs. I think I’m particularly well positioned to do this as a mom of that four-year-old, who happens to have many friends and acquaintances who are in the thick of raising children and trying to figure out how you combine parenting with school or parenting with education. As I said, I’m in the middle of it myself, but I have many friends who’ve got young children too. I’ve been an at-home parent, and I have a husband who’s currently an at-home dad with our children. I’m a big believer in finding ways to help families have time at home for sure. So that’s another perspective that I bring.
And I happen to have worked in the area of work/family balance, had the privilege of working with employers like Tim Hortons and airline hotels and resorts. I’ve had the privilege of working with well-paid professional employees, and I’ve had the privilege of working with lower waged employees who are struggling to get by and trying to figure out their work/family balance picture. It is not pretty, Mr. Speaker.
Right now, I don’t have the most recent stats, but just a few years ago, about 70 per cent of women with children under six were in the paid labour force here in Saskatchewan. So the reality is we have about 70 per cent. This is a huge number of people who need care for their children. This is a reality today, Mr. Speaker.
And again I just want to emphasize. As I said, I’ve been an at-home parent, and I am a big believer in trying to find ways to support parents to be at home, and that includes looking at leaves and different methods. But the reality is child care is a necessity here for our economy to succeed as well. We need people, women included, in paid employment to fill all the jobs that this government talks about.
So yesterday I had the opportunity to ask the Minister of Education some questions about child care. The first thing she said to me, Mr. Speaker, is I should talk to my past colleagues about why previous government hadn’t done the work that she’s suggesting should have been done. And you know what? I believe that my colleagues did at the time the best that they could with limited resources.
Governing, as I am sure this government is learning, is not easy, and we make choices with limited resources. But I have to remind the members opposite that there are only . . . There are more of us who are new to the Assembly than who served in that government. So it’s time for this government to fly on their own. I’ve spent two years listening to 16 years. Well you know what? You have to start looking at your last four years and what you’ve had the opportunity to do or haven’t done.
So with respect to that, I think the minister also yesterday said she mentioned Manitoba — our neighbour to the east — and she said how much better that neighbour had done than we have been doing under an NDP government. Well I want to remind the minister and ask her, well how the heck did Manitoba get to the place that they are with close to 30,000 child care spots? Well, Mr. Speaker, they have a plan. They’ve had a plan since 2002. In fact they’re in the middle of their second five-year plan.
So how do you get someplace? How do you get 30,000 child care spots? You have a plan. And it doesn’t just involve saying, I’m going to create spaces. So what they did in their first five-year plan, Mr. Speaker, they did in fact create over 5,000 more child care spaces. They enhanced . . . This is the Manitoba government. This is the Manitoba government, Mr. Speaker. So I’m glad he’s applauding an NDP administration and the fine work that they’re doing.
They enhanced nursery school initiatives supporting at-home parents who didn’t tap into full-time child care but wanted the opportunity to provide their kids with some socialization and an opportunity to connect with other kids. They increased child care subsidy levels, making it more affordable for low- and middle-income families. They added 450 new early childhood education . . . or they trained 450 new child care education graduates. They increased early childhood educator salaries by 15 per cent and the revenues to family child care providers increased by 12 per cent, Mr. Speaker. This was in the first of their five-year plan — 2002 to 2007.
So what are they currently doing, Mr. Speaker? So why do I say that this government, why do I say this government doesn’t have a plan? Well because they don’t have a plan, Mr. Speaker. This is a plan. And again I encourage the minister to keep looking east. Look east, Mr. Speaker, and Ms. Minister.
So what’s missing in our plan? I just want to talk a little bit more about what’s in this Manitoba plan. They’re going to increase their child care spaces by 6,500 by 2013. They’re going to increase their nursery school enrolment. They’re going to support capital funding of child care. They’re going to put in place a child care safety charter. They’re going to develop age-appropriate curricula and enhance program quality, Mr. Speaker. They’re going to create centralized online wait-lists for anybody who’s tried to find child care.
What you end up doing now here in Saskatchewan, you might apply
to one child care, two child cares, three child cares. You’re
just waiting to get a call back. There are places, the Ottawa Capital
Region, Manitoba, Quebec, and actually now Prince Edward Island
of all places, has developed a centralized online wait-list to have
one-stop shopping for child care. Manitoba has committed to having
the lowest child care fees outside of Quebec.
What else is part of their plan? Greater inclusion, Mr. Speaker. Not every family has the same needs, child care needs, and not every child who comes into care needs the same supports. So they’ve tried very hard to ensure that children, perhaps with disabilities, are receiving a kind of appropriate child care.
They’ve developed more flexible hours, Mr. Speaker. The reality is we live in a world that is 24-7. There is the need, Mr. Speaker, to look at non-standard child care outside of the Monday to Friday, 9 to 5 day. The reality is there are many families who would be eligible for licensed child care but the reality is there are few spaces offered at this time. So you have a family, someone who is working at Tim Hortons, that starts at 6 in the morning, can’t get licensed child care. They work on a Saturday morning or work at 9 o’clock on a Friday night; they can’t get licensed child care, Mr. Speaker. This is a huge gap we need to address.
Instead you’ve got someone leaving their child, not because they want to, but they need to work. The rising cost of living has been a reality for many people and the option of staying home isn’t the reality for many people. So there are people forced into lower waged employment who need to work, Mr. Speaker, and unfortunately the child care isn’t there. So they’re leaving their little Johnny or little Sue with Uncle Harry down the street who might have a little bit too much to drink sometimes but they don’t have . . . [inaudible interjection] . . . This is a reality. The member opposite says, “Oh, please.” This is a reality. People cannot find appropriate child care, Mr. Speaker, especially outside of the non-standard Monday to Friday, 9 to 5 hours. You look around. What else is Manitoba doing? It’s part of their plan, Mr. Speaker, a stronger workforce. They’re creating incentives for Aboriginal students, efforts to recruit more new Manitobans to their child care workforce, upgrading assistance for existing early childhood educators who wish to enhance their credentials. Right now, Mr. Speaker, in Saskatchewan there is very little incentive for child care workers to move from one year to a two-year training. So you might get your first year, but the wage difference is so marginal when you get your second year that there is very little incentive to put yourself through that second year of schooling.
They are offering scholarships to create a stronger workforce. They’re looking to try to recruit more men to the field. They have a focus on more home-based providers because not all of us like centre-based care. I like the opportunity or the . . . I think some of us like the opportunity to be able to put our child in a smaller, more home-like setting.
What else are they doing to create a stronger workforce? They’re
working to recruit back those people who have left the child care
profession because there is such a high burnout rate. So that might
be something that we’d look at having in our plan . . . [inaudible
interjection] . . . Yes, I will definitely make sure the minister
has a copy of this.
Stronger parental stewardship — making sure parents are part of the process. Strategic expansion.
So, Mr. Speaker, this is a child care plan. Adding 2,000 spaces, 500 a year for the next four years, is not a child care plan. And a child care plan involves talking with families, trying to connect and figure out all the various needs that families have. We don’t all want a one-size-fits-all child care model, so let’s talk to families about the kind of care that they want and need.
Saskatchewan values — what does that look like? We need to talk to educators. We should be leading in this area. If Prince Edward Island can go from the bottom of the class to the top of the class in the last three years, which they’ve been doing, we can do the same here, Mr. Speaker. We have the resources, the financial resources, a government that had a budget of $10.7 billion last year, Mr. Speaker. There is money to invest in our children. The reality is this is about investing in employment as well, making sure we have the workforce to be able to fill the positions.
When I was working for the work and family unit about five years ago, still under an NDP government, it was amazing. It went in a short period of time, the demand . . . We were in the midst of a labour force shortage just starting five or six years ago, Mr. Speaker. So training and making sure we have the child care workers to fill the need, making sure that we’re supporting those who want to provide at-home care — there’s so many things we could be doing. But again I’m on a tangent here.
Mr. Speaker, we need to do proper consultation. There’s been lots of very good work that’s been done. We need to talk to families, educators, care providers, and figure out what kind of plan fits our needs here in Saskatchewan. Then we need to implement it. And the minister talked about action yesterday. I think we’d all like to see some action on this front.
So with that, Mr. Speaker, I encourage the minister: look east, Ms. Minister. You have some . . . [inaudible] . . . Manitoba, Quebec, and Prince Edward Island. There’s some fine examples out there. Let’s lead on this front and make sure families have what they need to be the best possible parents and the best possible employees or students.
So with that, Mr. Speaker, as I said, there’s many gaps in this Throne Speech. I’ve mentioned a couple. Particularly I mentioned child care. But I will, on that note I will say that I will be supporting the amendment and I will not be supporting the Throne Speech. Thank you.