By Andru McCracken
There is one economic driver that Gordon Campbell’s Liberals should have put in place as they began centralizing services and jobs in the early 2000s. It could have saved our communities heartache and helped us become less dependent on government in a shorter span of time. It was not implemented. And if, in a few years time, the voters decide to send the Liberals back into power, I hope their base, rural people like us, will convince them how important it is… I’m talking about affordable childcare.
Since time immemorial our communities have been manufacturing centres. We didn’t just chop down trees and ship them out, we added value to them. And it meant that we made good wages.
Great wages in fact. In the 90s, Valemount and McBride lived high on the hog. Starting wages at the mill, back in 2000, were over $20 per hour not to mention benefits. This economic activity supported thriving communities. But that’s all gone now. The government? They still get their cut. Out here in the sticks, we just move that wood, we don’t get to lay a finger on it. What used to be a tsunami of economic activity is now a trickle, in a few specialty mills.
The government of the time hoped that we would pick ourselves up by the bootstraps, make our fortune serving lattes to passing tourists on the Canoe Mountain Gondola.
Valemount has done not bad, but McBride is still reeling.
The government’s bootstrap theory is not all wrong; we could pick ourselves up by our bootstraps, but only if we had the appropriate tools. If you talk to local businesses, they are hurting for workers. As communities we are hurting for entrepreneurs.
The fastest growing demographic in the valley is young expanding families. People are moving here to start families in a safe, clean and beautiful environment. Like always, the people that move here know what they want and they know how to hustle. They are family-scale economic developers. They should be treated by everyone (including the BC Liberal Party) with the reverence shown to BC tycoon Jimmy Pattison, because they do much much more for the economy with much less.
There is a program being implemented as we speak to increase the number of childcare spaces. It creates jobs. It provides an opportunity for more families to enter into the workforce and to get ahead. It creates wealth. Currently it is saving families (who are lucky enough to have their children enrolled in daycare) up to $8,000 per year. It’s not the same as having a mill job with benefits, but it’s a start on prosperity. As important as the extra cash is, it’s the surplus of labour and ingenuity that could actually move us forward.
When we have money in the bank, when we aren’t living pay cheque to pay cheque, we are able to make good decisions, make good investments for our families. It’s atomic level economic development.
Right now the Liberals are sending out mixed signals on childcare, and, they have no plan. If they get into power and they slash the affordable childcare programs currently underdevelopment by the NDP back to where they were during their 16 years of rule, we stand to lose. Their platform is that the private childcare sector can do it better and cheaper and create profit for child care entrepreneurs. This probably won’t even work in Victoria, but here, it definitely will not work.
It’s not because there aren’t enterprising childcare workers who want to care for kids while running their own business. It’s because we live in such a regulated environment. It is so regulated and so byzantine that there is not a single licensed private childcare provider in the entire Robson-Canoe area put together. If the next ruling party chooses to punish parents and nonprofit child care centres by taking away affordable child care programs, our valley’s recovering economy will tank.
Affordable childcare, or as it is sometimes known, universal childcare, is an economic driver that creates rich communities that don’t depend on the state. It provides stay at home moms and dads options. It creates a cascading network of jobs and it enhances the quality of life for young families. In some cases it allows people to get off social assistance and into a workforce that is starving for talent.
If I was the leader of BC’s progressive pro-economy party I would see these programs, not through some draconian ideological lens better fit to the U.S. I’d see them for what they are, free entreprise gold, bootstrap potion, a shot of adrenaline into the grassroots economy.
The old mill jobs with the big wages and the benefits? Those are gone. Now let’s provide an opportunity for small scale entrepreneurs to create wealth.