Thursday, June 21, 2012

Child Care, Composting, and Sewage at Sea

The Municipality of North Cowichan will not be presenting a resolution to this year's UBCM convention on the "Community Plan for a Public System of Integrated Early Care and Learning." (What I will henceforth, for the purposes of this post, call "the Plan".)  

You may recall that back in May, I wrote a post entitled "Debating Motherhood"; it detailed a request from the Cowichan Child Care Council to endorse the aforementioned plan, which purports to increase affordability and the quality of daycare by moving it under the umbrella of the Education Ministry, and mandating that what we used to call "baby-sitters" be replaced by "Early Childhood Educators", complete with four-year degrees.

I'm not going to recap that discussion here; you can read my earlier post for yourself to get a flavor of the discussion that took place last month.  But in our meeting this week, Councillor Marsh brought forward a resolution which would have essentially seen us move this plan forward to the Union of BC Municipalities for endorsement and recommendation to the Provincial Government.  Coun. Marsh based her motion, at least in part, on the idea that we had endorsed the plan "in principle".  That presupposition actually became the first bone of contention in the debate.

You'll see from my earlier post that we had scaled back our support for the plan from a comprehensive motion as proposed by the Child Care Council to simple support "in principle".  The motion, as it showed up in our minutes, read that we:
"endorse(d), in principle, the proposed plan for a public system of integrated early care and learning in BC."
When I wrote that post, I simply cut and pasted the motion as it showed up in the draft minutes of our meeting, but in the back of my mind, I questioned whether that was actually the motion that we had voted on.  Not wanting to be a stickler on this, and assuming that perhaps my recollection was flawed, I was prepared to let the issue go.  But yesterday, when we were called upon to formally adopt the minutes of our May 22nd meeting, Councillor Koury also raised a question about the accuracy of the motion as it was recorded.  He was of the opinion, (as was I), that what we had endorsed "in principle" was the notion that we would support having the Plan moved forward to the Provincial Government for their consideration.  That's considerably different, of course, from an "in principle" endorsement of the Plan itself.  Councillor Woike also expressed some reservations with the minutes as written, although she was less adamant in her impression of the earlier motion. 

At the end of the day, for the first time that I can remember, a vote to approve a set of Council minutes was not unanimous; both Coun. Koury and I voted against the motion.  A minor point, perhaps, but somewhat telling in terms of process.

Later in the meeting, Councillor Marsh's motion with respect to the UBCM resolution came up for discussion.  It was certainly an interesting debate.  We had been presented with more documentation in support of the plan, including some statistics on the costs of daycare, the existing (and projected) demand, and the estimated costs of "the Plan" to the Provincial Treasury.  (Roughly $1.5 billion per year.)

However, the two questions I asked on May 22nd remained unanswered.  The first had to do with statistics that show about a third of children entering Kindergarten aren't prepared socially, emotionally, or academically to enter the education mainstream.  What I still want to know is whether this is because of poor "at-home" parenting skills, or whether it's because the system has raised the bar in terms of expectations on those kids.    The second question is somewhat more esoteric, but I believe equally valid in the long-term.  And that has to do with the notion of whether "early childhood education", if it's rolled into the education system as envisioned in the Plan, could eventually become mandatory.  Certainly no one is suggesting that's the case today, but a long-term view of this raises concerns for me.  If "education" is mandatory by the time kids hit the age of six, and we change the system to provide this service for children as young as three, what's to prevent some bureaucrat or future Education Minister from deeming that this "education" will become mandatory at a much younger age?

But the position I took last night goes beyond those concerns.  I have always maintained that daycare costs are a major issue for young families; that's self-evident, and somehow, we need to address that issue.  However, I consider that to be separate from the broader policy thrust that's being suggested in the "Plan".

And as I said last night "while this may be politically incorrect, the fact is that research has consistently shown that the very best outcomes for children come from two-parent families, where the mother is the primary care-giver in the home in the first years of life. I fully recognize that this ideal isn't attainable for many families today, but in essence, what we're being asked to endorse here is, by definition, not the very best plan.  And I have a problem endorsing what is essentially a 'second-best' option.  I believe it's our role as policy-makers to help create a society that will make it possible for parents and families to make the choices that lead to the best outcomes."

Of course, there is a continuum of options in this area, ranging from "the best" (the nuclear family with a stay-at-home mom as the primary caregiver), to "the worst"; a scenario where children are left to be cared for by relatives or friends who are not qualified to provide the care, and who may have, for example, issues with alcoholism or even, heaven forbid, pedophelia.  (And there are anecdotal horror stories out there that prove these scenarios do exist.)

Realistically, the challenge is to strive toward facilitating "the best", while weeding out "the worst".   In my heart of hearts, I remain unconvinced that "the Plan" will do this because of its' emphasis on the institutionalizaton and professionalization of what are essentially family (parenting) duties.

In the end, Councillor Marsh's motion was defeated on a tie vote.  (Councillor Lines was not at the meeting.)

We will be bringing another resolution to UBCM though.  This one has to do with revenue sources for local government.  The resolution asks UBCM to go to the Province with a request for a share of the provincial "Property Transfer Tax".  This is a tax that's levied every time a house is bought and sold, and is tied to the value of the homes, which seems a fair way for local governments to tap into a new revenue stream based on the assessment realities in each local municipality. 

Admittedly, this may not be the most stable form of income (the number of home sales in a given year is, of course, subject to the vagaries of the overall economy; there could well be a year when real estate transactions drop precipitously from the previous year; the revenue stream would also be reduced by a commensurate amount, so it would be difficult for Municipalities to count on this revenue stream as part of the overall budgeting process.)  But it may be a step in the right direction.

A few other issues of interest last night, both of them "late items" which I brought up; neither was actually on the Agenda.

First of all, we're going to have a discussion about our hugely successful "Kitchen Pitch-In Program."  It's been brought to my attention that there are some folks who would like to use more than one "green bin" for their organics.  North Cowichan will happily sell them one at a nominal cost, but every time they want to put two bins to the curb simultaneously, there's an expectation that they affix an "extra can" sticker to the second green bin (at a cost of $3).  People I've talked to who would like to use the second bin are balking at the notion of paying extra to do so; their response is that they'll simply fill the first bin and then put whatever excess organics they have back into their "regular" garbage to avoid having to pay the extra fee.  Which kind of defeats the main purpose of the organics program, which is to reduce the stream of material going into the landfills.   We will be having a discussion on this issue at an upcoming CoW meeting.

Also coming to a future CoW meeting is discussion about a sewage pumpout station for transient boaters at the Maple Bay Marina.  The Marina has committed to putting one of these in when they complete sales on the first phase of their "Shore Pine" development up the hill from the water.  That commitment was made about 5 or 6 years ago, well before the economy went into the tank.  Sales of lots and homes there have been going much slower than projected, and at the current rate, it could be quite a few years before the Marina operators are obligated (or will be able to afford) to put in this amenity.  So the Maple Bay Community Association has come up with an alternative proposal. 

They are suggesting that the Municipality "umbrella" the project by entering into some kind of agreement with the Marina whereby the Municipality would lease, for a nominal fee, a small footprint of land at the Marina to house the pumpout station.  Under their plan, the pumpout station would technically be ours, but would be operated by the Marina.  What the Community Association is adamantly not suggesting is that we pay for the facility with property tax dollars.  Instead, they're suggesting that, since our grant application for an upgrade of the North Cowichan docks in Maple Bay has been rejected, we might wish to instead go after some federal "Green" grant money for the pumpout station.  (That's also the reason for the request that North Cowichan "umbrella" the project.  It's much easier for local governments to get federal grant money for things such as this than it is for private entities such as the Marina.) 

And seems to me to be a better option than waiting up to 10 years (or longer) for the Marina to have to live up to its' commitment under the Shore Pine development plan.  This whole concept is being driven by new Federal legislation that came into effect back in May; laws which severely tighten restrictions and increase penalties for dumping of this effluent at sea. The new legislation wasn't envisioned when the Shore Pines development agreement was signed, and the fact is that the issue of raw sewage coming out of transient boats in Bird's Eye Cove isn't getting any better.  (And incidentally, the bulk of this stuff is coming from transients.  All but two of the float homes at the Marina are now hooked into the new sewage treatment plant, and the two that aren't have been given eviction notices effective the end of this month.)  So we'll be having a discussion on this at an upcoming CoW meeting

Much more could be written about last night's meeting, but that'll have to do for this week.

As always comments, questions, and emails are welcome.

Thanks for reading. 

ALS

(One more thing.  You'll notice a new link off to the right.  Duncan City Councillor Martin Barker has now started a blog, and his first post deals with a discussion they had at their Council table this week about increased pay for Councillors there.  An interesting read, to be sure.)

8 comments:

  1. I find it interesting that while you write "I have always maintained that daycare costs are a major issue for young families; that's self-evident, and somehow, we need to address that issue" you suggest no alternatives to "address the issue" for families. And as there is no other Plan to address the crisis working parents with young children are facing (in fact it is getting worse) - and as you voted against the Plan, for $10/day child care, more spaces and decent wages for workers, one can only guess that you are prepared to maintain the status quo that parents and children are dealing with?

    Your suggetsion that kids are better off with mum at home is a slap in the face to mothers (let's be honest that you're talking about women staying at home not men) who contribute to their family well-being with their income and who pay taxes and demand access to services that their taxes contribute to. Two parent families and single parents.

    The EDI does show approximately 30% of children in BC are vulnerable on one or more of the five developmental scales at age 5. If you looked in detail at the EDI research tool you would find it measures skills that are very basic to childhood and not tied to academics as you insinuate with your comment about increasing educational expectations.

    I'd be happy to counter all your arguments over a cup of coffee one day!

    Sharon Gregson

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    1. Sharon:

      Allow me to respond to your points one by one. (in three separate posts - this comments page won't allow me to post the reply all at once.)

      To your first point, wherein you "guess that (I am) prepared to maintain the status quo that parents and children are dealing with", I have maintained throughout this discussion that things do need to be done. Not to get legalistic on you, but as a municipal politician, my actual legal (constitutional) responsibilities don't include "child care" or "education". Both of those fall within Provincial jurisdiction.
      Having said that, however, I've been quite active in trying to encourage some "outside-the-box" thinking on this issue here in the Valley. For example, I'm pushing as hard as I can to create new child care spaces in the old Aquannis Centre at the Community Centre.
      Here's how it would work:
      The space is currently vacant and unused. As you know, VIU has recently built their campus next door, and one of the things they offer is a diploma program in "Early Childhood Education". Part of that involves actual work with children. Wouldn't it be amazing if we could convert the old swimming pool space into a day-care facility which would be staffed by students from VIU? The students' tuition would help cover the rent; labour costs would be minimized, and the actual day care costs to parents could be substantially reduced. A win-win-win for all concerned. (The issue that we're struggling with on this is coming up with the substantial monies needs for capital upgrades/renovations to the Aquannis space.)
      But, to the limited extent that we can influence these policy discussions and create more affordability on the ground, I have been trying. So no, I'm not "prepared to maintain the status quo." We each do what we can within out sphere of influence and jurisdiction.

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    2. Next, you write: "Your suggetsion that kids are better off with mum at home is a slap in the face to mothers (let's be honest that you're talking about women staying at home not men) who contribute to their family well-being with their income and who pay taxes and demand access to services that their taxes contribute to. Two parent families and single parents."

      No insult or "slap in the face" intended. I fully recognize that economic necessity is what it is. My previous blog post ("Debating Motherhood") made that very clear. The question of whether or not a parent (in your example, the mother), goes out to work should be a choice.
      But the fact is that there are many who, through economic necessity, simply don't have that choice, and I have always acknowledged that. My philosophical position in this discussion (lofty as it may sound), is that governments should create a tax structure and an economic and social environment where this choice is truly restored.

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    3. And your final point was: "The EDI does show approximately 30% of children in BC are vulnerable on one or more of the five developmental scales at age 5. If you looked in detail at the EDI research tool you would find it measures skills that are very basic to childhood and not tied to academics as you insinuate with your comment about increasing educational expectations."

      And you may well be right here. When I asked the question at the May 22nd meeting, the folks from the Cowichan Child Care Council weren't able to answer me; their answer was that this would "make a good research project". If the standards and expectations of the system have not indeed gone up, then this is a telling statistic in terms of the parenting skills of today's generation. As I wrote in a response to a commenter on my "Debating Motherhood" post last month, the reality in our society has become that "we have kids raising kids. We have a generation coming into adulthood today for whom what (my generation) considers 'normal parenting skills' were never modeled, so they're essentially thrashing around blindly in the dark."

      Sharon.. I don't consider this an "argument" at all. Just a very interesting discussion, with real and very serious implications and consequences for our children and our families.

      Thanks for engaging. And coffee sounds good. Pop me an email.

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  2. One more thought...You say..."the fact is that research has consistently shown that the very best outcomes for children come from two-parent families, where the mother is the primary care-giver in the home in the first years of life". Could you please cite your sources?

    For families where two parents with a stay at home mum is not an option or a choice - what do you suggest?

    Sharon Gregson

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    1. Jonathon Bowlby, a British psychiatrist, has done some seminal work on the issue of early childhood "attachment" issues for young children:
      http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20090427013038AA7axjK

      A study by the National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (USA) found that “…the more time children spend in any of a variety of non maternal care in the first 4.5 years of life...predicts problem behaviour...assertiveness, disobedience and aggression...”

      http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/3696198?uid=3739400&uid=2129&uid=2&uid=70&uid=3737720&uid=4&sid=56273533933

      Looking at Canadian statistics, Stats-Can says the rate of violent crime among young people is up by 30 percent since 1991, with homocides at their highest point since they started collecting the data 30 years earlier. All of this during a period of time when the proportion of children in day care also went up.

      http://www.statcan.gc.ca/daily-quotidien/060405/dq060405a-eng.htm#cont

      To be clear, I'm not equating an absolute correlation between these two sets of statistics, but they are certainly interesting.

      Anecdotally, I think we can all agree that educational outcomes 25 years ago (when "at-home care" was much more prevalent than it is today), were much better. I have spoken to numerous people in the private sector today who insist, based on their hiring experiences, that our schools today are graduating a lot of students who are, in essence, functionally illiterate.

      Again, is there a direct causal relationship between today's educational outcomes and the decreased emphasis on "stay at home parenting" in the early years? I'm not prepared to draw any emphatic conclusions but again, this is "certainly interesting."

      As to the final part of your question, in terms of what I would suggest for parents who truly don't have a choice, please see the first of my three responses to your original comment. I want to work - within my limited capacity as a Municipal Councillor - toward a helping to facilitate a society where that choice is truly restored.

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  3. Received a comment on this issue on my FB page (I've linked this discusson there, but the comments there don't show up here.) But the comment really speaks to the issue. It's from a mid-50's mom and now grandmother:

    "Because you cannot practically do the the best thing does not make it the best thing to do. I was very fortunate to be in a position to make the very expensive decision to raise my own children. I know that phrase may offend a lot of people, but if your little children are with other people for 90% of their waking hours, you are, at best, influencing them. If you're not in that position then you do the best you can -- make sure they are with people whose values you share and so forth. We all do what we can."

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