‘Extortion and a bribe:’ Manitoba daycare centres react to coronavirus plan

Some Manitoba daycare workers say they’re furious at the government’s plan to address child care needs during the novel coronavirus pandemic, announced Friday.

“It’s extortion and a bribe,” said one daycare executive director, who asked not to be named for fear of losing her centre’s funding.

Families Minister Heather Stefanson announced the plan Friday, which would see $27 million in grants and funding funnelled to daycares — provided they choose to remain open to care for children of health care workers.

If daycares choose to close, their operating grants will be cut off.

That puts both the daycares’ boards of directors and daycare staff in a difficult place, said the executive director.

If daycares close and lose their operating grant, that means bills like rent, heat and electricity won’t be paid, she said.

If they open to keep their operating grant, staff will have to choose between coming to work and potentially getting sick, or not coming to work and therefore losing their job, and possibly not qualifying for EI because they technically quit, she added.

One early childhood educator, who also asked not to be named for fear of losing their job, said it didn’t help that the province said earlier this week daycares were to be closed.

“So what are we supposed to do? Put my life on the line or lose my job? That’s blackmail. That’s just blackmail.”

During the daily provincial update Friday, Stefanson originally said daycares that chose to close would not be penalized, saying “funding will continue to flow.”

However, numerous daycare workers contacted Global News and 680 CJOB to say they were told that was not the case.

One said they got a call from the Early Learning and Child Care Program office.

“I was also asked that the centre remain open and take on 16 children of essential workers’ children,” she wrote.

“If the centre was to agree to that, then the operating grant we receive from the province would be released. It was also advised that if we closed our centre then we would not receive any funding and the operating grant would be stopped.”

A spokesperson for Stefanson sent out the following when asked for clarity.

“Today’s announcement allows all licensed child care centres that were asked to suspend services as of the end of the day to continue to operate, if they are willing to limit the number of children in their care to under 16 and give priority to essential front-line workers,” said the spokesperson.

“If centres remain open under those circumstances, they would continue to receive their full operating grants and subsidies from the province. The decision on whether or not to operate will be made by centres’ boards of directors.”

NDP childcare critic Danielle Adams said there’s no need to treat daycares this way.

“After first saying child care would be suspended, now the Pallister Government is forcing centres to remain open if they want to qualify for operating funding. The only other alternative is bankruptcy for centres and layoffs for workers,” she said.

“There is no need for this approach — we can meet the need for childcare for essential workers without putting centres and workers in impossible situations.”

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