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Elmira childcare centre likely to remain open

It may have a different operator, but the Elmira Children’s Centre will remain open despite a fiscal review that recommends shuttering the five daycare facilities operated directly by the Region of Waterloo, says Woolwich’s mayor.

Sandy Shantz, who represents the township on regional council, shared that news as opponents of the proposed closings brought the fight to Tuesday’s night township council meeting.

“I have been assured the Elmira childcare will not close,” she said ahead of a list of delegates registered to speak, suggesting another operator could be brought in by the end of 2021.

The region is looking to find some $25 million in savings to offset a projected deficit next year. A consultant’s study found closing the five region-run daycare centres would save $6.8 million.

“This is not about the money – it’s a philosophical question. It’s are we a service manager or are we a service provider?”

She challenged the fairness of 10 per cent of the region’s spending on childcare going to the five centres that provide space to just two per cent of children in such programs, adding the consultant’s report doesn’t look at the details of ensuring the daycare spaces remain.

“I would like to see more of a plan, and more of a guarantee of what’s going to happen with the funds,” she said, noting many unknowns remain.

It was those uncertainties that have parents speaking out en masse about the proposed closures, with regional councillors receiving an earful at an online forum last week. On Tuesday, that spilled over into Woolwich, with delegates hoping to influence Shantz’s vote when the issue comes to regional council next month.

“This childcare may be expensive, but it’s an investment in our community,” said Elmira resident Keri Linscott, a mother of two, one of whom attends the Elmira centre.

She noted daycare spaces are at a premium in the area, adding there’s no need for a rushed decision, especially given the bad timing in the midst of a pandemic.

For Noelle Fletcher, president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 1883, which represents the workers at the regional childcare centres, the prospect of leaving people uncertain about their daycare situation is untenable. She called the decision “destabilizing,” noting the closures would put some 60 women out of work in the midst of an economic downturn brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

Coun. Patrick Merlihan suggested regional councillors, including Shantz, are struggling with the decision about the cost-saving measure.

“This is an emotional issue. As it comes to our kids, we all get pretty protective about wanting the best for them. I don’t know any parent that doesn’t want the best for their child,” he said. “My concerns are the lack of a plan” to ensure the childcare spaces remain.

The potential closures did get some support, however, with Coun. Murray Martin applauding the region for carrying out a cost-savings review.

“I don’t think there’s any argument that the private sector can usually do a better job than the region would. Daycares are fine. I think they should be licensed and meet a certain standard, and I also think they should look after themselves – I don’t think they should be subsidized,” said Martin.

While Woolwich has no say in the process, regional councillors do, and the closures will be on the agenda at a meeting scheduled for December 2.

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