After the opposition called on the province to spend more than a fraction of the $22 million it has promised for child care, the government said to stay tuned.
"We are working, specifically with the Winnipeg chamber, on some very exciting projects that I will be looking forward to announcing very soon," Families Minister Rochelle Squires told reporters Tuesday.
She said the chamber has been working with the province to create new, "culturally appropriate" child-care spaces.
Last August, the province announced it would invest $22 million in "new and reallocated funds" to create 1,400 spaces. It said it was teaming up with the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce and the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce, and using $8.5 million to create new, diverse child care options in workplaces and homes.
On Tuesday, NDP Leader Wab Kinew said a freedom of information request showed that just $1.7 million had been dispersed to child-care programs through the chambers of commerce a as of March 19.
"It's clear that they're only spending a fraction of the money that's been earmarked," Kinew told reporters.
"Given the urgency around child care, the government should really be using all of the funds they have earmarked," he said. That money should go to chronically underfunded non-profit, child-care centres "that are actually serving communities," and struggling to keep their doors open, Kinew said.
"Let's get those funds out to the community to help those centres delivering child care," he said.
Manitoba’s online child-care registry had more than 16,000 children on the waiting list in June 2018, the last time it was updated before the COVID-19 pandemic struck in March 2020.
Squires said when the pandemic arrived, there was a lot of uncertainty in the child care system. All child-care centres, except licensed family homes, closed. When they initially reopened, it was with lower enrolments and involved the children of essential workers.
The province introduced the Manitoba Child Care Search Tool to help essential service workers identify which facilities were open and where there were vacancies.
The wait list at one point showed 5,000 child-care vacancies — an anomaly, as parents worked from home or couldn't work because of the pandemic. As of last week, there were just 4,600 vacancies, but that will change, said Squires.
In the meantime, the province used much of the promised child-care funding to create an $11.5 million trust to fund programs every year.
Squires said the chambers of commerce still had $4.72 million, and that pot of money is funding the "culturally appropriate" child-care programming the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce is rolling out. She wouldn't specify if the new spaces include for-profit and non-profit spaces.
When asked about the chamber's new spaces, executive director Jodie Kehl of the Manitoba Child Care Association, which represents 4,000 licensed child-care members, said the association "has not been consulted on anything of this nature."
After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.