The Manitoba government is establishing a commission to recommend ways to achieve its goal of making early learning and child care universally accessible.

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The Manitoba government is establishing a commission to recommend ways to achieve its goal of making early learning and child care universally accessible.

Family Services Minister Kerri Irvin-Ross said a consultant will be hired by April 1 to take on the role of commissioner. A 12-person advisory committee has been named to assist the commissioner, who is expected to report his or her findings within a year.

The province’s early learning and child care program, established four decades ago, is now challenged by growing demands for what has become an essential service for modern families, advocates say.

A provincial online registry for child care has close to 12,000 names on its waiting list.

Irvin-Ross said it’s obvious that Manitoba families want good quality child care. "They want to know when they have a need for child care that there’s going to be a spot available to them."

The commission is expected to draw a road map on how to achieve that goal.

Specifically, it will be asked to explore how the province can move towards implementing a universally accessible system, how the current community-based non-profit model can be supported or improved, and whether Manitoba can better integrate the education and child care systems.

Pat Wege, executive director of the Manitoba Child Care Association, applauded the initiative.

She said the province has released three consecutive multi-year child care plans, leading to improved access and better quality service. But families still face multi-year waits for a licensed child care space, and they become "frustrated and frightened" when they can’t get the care they need and want, she said.

"Our child care system must grow bigger and faster but also better and stronger," she added.

Wege, a member of the commission’s advisory committee, noted the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has suggested a partnership between the child care and education systems may provide the best framework for achieving a universally accessible system.

Wege said it’s an idea that’s worth exploring. In Canada, she said, Ontario has moved in that direction, and Prince Edward Island has done it most successfully.

For the system to grow as fast it needs to grow to meet future demands, Manitoba should re-evaluate the governance model for child care — especially as it relates to expanding the system, Wege said. Right now, boards staffed by volunteers are still the main vehicles for building new child care centres, but is that too much to expect from such bodies?

Provincial funding to early learning and child care now stands at $152 million annually.

Irvin-Ross said she expects the commission will be doing research "well beyond the borders of Manitoba" to gather information about best practices. But she said its budget will be modest. The consultant’s contract is not to exceed $100,000.

The terms of reference for the 12-person advisory committee require the group to hold a minimum of three face-to-face meetings at the call of the commissioner, with additional meetings as required. Individual committee members may also be called upon to provide input and expertise outside these scheduled meetings. The advisory committee’s work will conclude next January.






Larry Kusch

Larry Kusch
Legislature reporter

Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.

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