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Terrace daycare at the centre of debate in B.C. Legislature

MLA for Chilliwack-Kent asked if new NDP health tax would apply to daycares like Willow Creek
MLA Laurie Throness addressed the Minister of Finance on Thursday March 15 and spoke about Willow Creek Childcare in Terrace.

A Terrace daycare owner’s frustration with the NDP’s new child care program was the focus of debate in the B.C. Legislature March 15.

Liberal MLA for Chilliwack-Kent Laurie Throness addressed the issue with Minister of Finance Carole James, underlining the risks that for-profit daycares are facing, specifically with the new Employer Health Tax that may affect their viability.

“Willow Creek Childcare in Terrace is one of the largest day-care centres in B.C.’s north,” Throness said. “It has 140 spaces, 40 employees and it will be hit hard by the government employer health tax. It could cost the daycare $14,000 this year, and every year after.”

“This daycare operates on tight margins so it can be affordable to parents, so the tax jeopardizes its viability.”

Throness then asked James to exempt daycares from the provincial government’s proposed employer health tax, which requires companies with payrolls over $500,000 to pay a 0.98 per cent tax a year. It is scheduled to replace the Medical Services Plan (MSP) tax for the province by January 2019.

James replied the NDP had allocated $1-billion in their recent budget “to support affordability for families to ensure child care centres can provide good quality care for family and children.”

But Throness returned to the issue during question period, stating Willow Creek Daycare just started paying MSP premiums so it could keep its employees, but now has to deal with paying “a permanent unforeseen tax.

“Instead of creating new childcare spaces as this government promised, we could lose spaces in Terrace,” Throness said. Then, he directly addressed Willow Creek owner Jennifer Maillet, who was watching from the gallery.

“On behalf of Jennifer,” he said motioning to Maillet, “I ask the Minister of Children and Family Development…will she find $14,000 in her budget to save Willow Creek Childcare from this punishing tax?”

Minister James did not directly answer the question but referred to the recently announced subsidies made available for both private and non-profit child care providers to opt-in at their discretion. “I feel like I’ve been heard,” Maillet said in a telephone interview after question period. “But I don’t think any of my questions have been answered.

“Non-profit daycares are represented by the Early Childhood Educators of BC (ECEBC) but family child care providers, who represent the majority, don’t feel like their voices are being heard.”

Before the announcement of the NDP’s sweeping new childcare program, Willow Creek planned on raising their monthly fees for families in the infant/toddler program full-time to $1,000 in May to help with staffing and wage concerns.

After the notice was sent out to parents, the daycare was notified on March 2 that if they increased their fees, they wouldn’t be eligible for the full $350 Child Care Operating Fund (CCOF) subsidy in April unless permitted by the government.

This means that families would receive an amount determined by a sliding scale based on the cost of care, which for Willow Creek and other daycare centres in Terrace is below the provincial threshold of $1,250 a month.

During a Willow Creek parent meeting on March 9, Maillet said she doesn’t want her families not to be eligible or get the base amount of $350, even though the daycare’s operating costs are going up.

“…I decided to opt-in so all of our infant and toddler programs will pay $650 a month,” Maillet said at the meeting.

READ MORE: Concerns raised over new provincial child-care program

Evan Ramsay, 31, is a father of two and uses Willow Creek daycare five days a week mostly for his three-year-old son. He said he pays between $700 to $800 a month, with an additional extra fee for early drop-off. If Willow Creek decides to opt-in without being able to raise their fees to meet the provincial threshold, Ramsay will receive a fee reduction that is determined based on his annual income.

“I’m not sure how the subsidy will help me,” he said. “Why not suggest flat rates or try simplifying the tax codes to help teachers and parents instead?”

As an individual who is trying to start a business, Ramsay said he falls into a gray area where he isn’t sure whether or not to fill out the application forms for the CCOF subsidies as a self-employed person, or file as an unemployed person until his business concept is approved.

Maillet said it is too early to tell what will happen with Willow Creek if they are not exempt from the NDP’s health tax, but that she has spoken with a number of Liberal MLA’s about her concerns, including MLA Ellis Ross.

“I don’t think the NDP …know about what policies and guidelines they are going to put into place yet, so I think we really need to wait and hear what their guidelines are going to be.”

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Photo contributed Willow Creek Daycare owner Jennifer Maillet was directly addressed by MLA Laurie Throness during a BC Legislature debate about childcare on March 15.