Recently I had the good fortune of speaking with a resident of our community who is an immigration consultant, but she was, at the time, unable to work due to a lack of childcare. This set of facts represents a missed opportunity that will not be lost on any business owner in the region. Businesses large and small rely on workers from far and wide, interprovincially and internationally, to keep their operations functioning and a quick glance at the employee badges on the ski hill illustrates the breadth of global interest in working in the very heart of the Canadian Rockies. Fernie is well acquainted with the value of immigration assistance, not just for seasonal employment but for introducing those to the town who often become life-long members of our community.
As well, I have spoken with a number of residents with the same complaint—they would love to work but can’t. They put their name on a waiting list with a childcare provider only to hope against hope that a space would become available and find it never materializes. Or they are even willing to start their own childcare facility just to create a space for their child. If this impediment could be removed, the skills that could be mobilized are manifold.
It is of course important not to generalize and to acknowledge that, more and more, two parents are sharing the myriad responsibilities of raising children. However, it isn’t a statistical reach to acknowledge that the majority of parents left unable to participate are women. This has a number of ramifications, not least of which, is that this one half of the parenting team—in single-parent households the whole team—is left unable to be a full participant in the labour market. And, where we live, this also limits a families’ ability even to stay in an increasingly expensive community and we are the poorer for missing out on crucial skilled, educated, experienced resident workers.
I have worked with and currently work with an exceptionally talented group of women for whom the unpredictability of childcare takes up an inordinate amount of their mental bandwidth. It begins to feel increasingly unfair that they need to worry as much as they do and that they need to juggle the support of parents, in-laws, friends, in-home care just to get to work every day.
Ultimately, when the market doesn’t, a responsible municipal government has a role in helping to create opportunities that can break the impasse for new childcare spaces and liberate as many potential workers as possible and allow them to flow into the workforce. The beauty of this role is it connects you with people who are anxious to help and who can provide our community with innovative solutions and resources. It is one of those conversations that I was eager to begin and now that it is underway, I am excited about the possibilities. Optimism continues to sustain me, and, on this file, I am currently very optimistic.
Photo courtesy of the Fernie Childcare Society