It seems a bit like a dream, but the other day I attended a round table meeting with Premier Christy Clark, Director of Outreach Pamela Martin, and about 20 other mom bloggers. It was an honour to be chosen to raise issues on what government can do better to help families in British Columbia. There was lots of discussion and suggestions from participants on a variety topics including:
- childcare – affordability, availability, and needed improvements to subsidies.
- the issue of bullying and the tragic suicide of Amanda Todd was immediately brought up by the premier and there was total agreement in the room that this was a priority.
- incentives for employers for more part time jobs and job sharing positions as part of the BC Jobs Plan
- why cross border shopping is so much more affordable and how we can support local businesses
- the need for marketing existing self employment programs and training programs for moms who have been at home and now want to reintegrate into the workforce
- affordability of organic food; the need for labelling genetically modified food in Canada
- support for parents with autistic children
I found the Premier to be friendly, personable and engaging. She had a pretty good grasp on the childcare and bullying issues already and was open to hearing our thoughts on a variety of topics.
When it was my turn (I had about 2 minutes to speak!) there had already been extensive discussion on my top 2 issues from readers – the cost of childcare and bullying. I had a list of issues I wanted to talk about but raised 1) the lack of part-time job opportunities for women going back to work after kids and whether that could be included in the BC Jobs Plan and 2) affordability in Metro Vancouver and why prices in the US for gas, clothes, food, and household goods are so much more affordable than in Canada.
I feel like this opportunity to provide input on public policy was really a celebration of women’s voices. If you asked me what it was like, I can tell you it was a roomful of talkative, engaged, opinionated and passionate voices. Not everyone got a chance to speak just because of the time constraints but Pamela Martin (btw she is just adorable in person) did her best as moderator to try to spread out the airtime.
I have just finished sending an email with additional comments and suggestions from both myself, my readers and my family members whom I had asked for input on Facebook prior to the meeting. Here is what I have sent via our contact for the session, Pamela Martin:
I really enjoyed the round table on Tuesday; it was an honour to be there so thank you. As I mentioned previously, I have some additional comments I would like to provide to the Premier from both myself, my readers and my family members who I had asked for input via Facebook prior to the meeting. I have listed them below:
Many of the families I know are struggling with affordability. With housing costs so high in Metro Vancouver, and the resulting mortgage payments, it’s tough to afford everything else: utilities, insurance, food, clothing and so on.
- Many moms I know are clipping coupons, shopping on Craigslist, buying and selling at swap meets, cross-border shopping, cutting spending, working second or even third jobs and just doing whatever they can to make ends meet.
- It doesn’t help when Hydro rates, ICBC rates, ferry rates, tolls, and gas taxes keep climbing plus, I know it is municipal, but property taxes went up this year as well.
- I am frustrated because we are cutting costs like crazy at home but our bills keep increasing. We don’t travel by ferry unless we have to, have cut our deductibles for car and home insurance, cross border shop for gas, groceries, clothing, and household items.
- Families need help to maximize their after tax dollars.
- Income splitting at the provincial and federal level for families with children. This is something Harper promised for 2014 federally – I really hope it goes through. In making the choice to be at home with my child to spend time with him while he is little, I would feel like my contribution was being recognized and rewarded.
- Find a way to reduce childcare costs for families
- Find a way to further reduce ICBC, Hydro, Ferry, tolls, gas tax increases…
- Keep taxes low!
Increase part-time work opportunities
Like many other new mothers, I asked my employer if it was possible to return to work part-time instead of full-time after maternity leave and was turned down. I was an employee in good standing with several years of experience in my public relations job at Metro Vancouver (GVRD).
- All of the moms I know want to spend as much time as possible with their children, and many would like to return to work part-time but most employers are not receptive so they either quit like I did or go back full time because they must.
- Encouraging employers to offer part-time work opportunities as part of the Jobs Plan would be huge for women in this province who have children, whether it is part-time hours, job sharing, flexible hours, and/or reduced work weeks.
- Providing programs to help stay at home moms work from home, or if they are out there, more advertising to promote existing programs would also help.
Supporting families dealing with infertility
Is there a way the government can help families who are dealing with infertility? My husband and I struggled with this issue for 2 years before we were able to get pregnant and I can tell you it is a financial and emotional roller coaster. My son means the world to me – I can no longer imagine my life without him – and even though we are well past this issue personally, I still feel for the many families who are going through this ordeal. They need your help.
- According to the Genesis Fertility Clinic website, 1 in 6 families who are trying to get pregnant will face this issue (more than you would think, yes?).
- The main reason for infertility is a medical problem and yet the drugs and procedures to treat infertility are not covered by medical plans. So not only are you stressed out and worried because you don’t know if you will ever be able to have the family you have dreamed of, but you also have to worry about how to afford it. Why is that?
- It cost us about $30,000 for infertility treatments and this is not unusual – a friend of mine spent over $40,000 (for the costs of various procedures, check out the Genesis Fee Schedule)
- I am asking for financial support for the families who are going through infertility treatments. There are tax deductions available but that isn’t enough.
- In my opinion there is also a major lack of public education about this topic and few support groups…
This is the top issue for the Tri-city moms who responded to my Facebook post asking for feedback to take to the round table.
- For some families, even with two people working, the burden of childcare means they are struggling to afford a mortgage, groceries, bills, and so on but don’t qualify for the subsidies as they are not low income.
- Suggestions include: start preschool at age 2, more affordable daycare, improved childcare subsidies, longer maternity leave (2 years), encouraging businesses to have childcare at work, improved parental leave benefits for dads.
I am also including a couple of the Facebook posts which really show the frustration:
- “The cost of childcare for one child is almost equivalent to rent… for two it’s a mortgage! Easy! It’s beyond ridiculous. I didn’t like my job enough to pay that much for daycare, so now am a mostly Stay At Home Mom (who works part-time – for minimum wage – during evenings and weekends) and we are barely making ends meet. This is a sad reality for many British Columbians. Between a mortgage, bills, groceries, and a few inexpensive, community center-run programs for our daughter, it’s pretty tough. I am already thinking of forgoing school for myself later as the thought of putting my daughter in daycare or after-school care down the road is quite daunting. We are already broke… but I’m afraid that daycare costs – even with me working full time some day – will still make us broke – or maybe just a little better than broke. Almost makes me wonder if it’s worth the effort.”
- “I work in the (child care) field and have 2 kids and financially does not make any sense for me to go back to work. When (my daughter) was in daycare last year, it was $1075 a month, now think 2 at that cost which is over 2,000$ a month!!!! Unless I made a ridiculous amount of money in childcare, I won’t be able to go back into the field until my daughter is in school full time! Subsidy yes is available, however you have to make less than a certain amount and if you are at all over that amount, you are denied. So I think the amount of subsidy needs to change so that more parents can be approved for it and be able to work! Something has to change in order for parents to go back to work after having babies”
I was bullied and I, like every other mom I know, am very concerned about this issue – and that includes both bullying in the school room and cyber-bullying. How was it that the predator who terrorized Amanda Todd online was not caught? Why did a group of bullies who beat her up get away with this – that is just unthinkable? How many other children are being preyed upon or going through hell because of bullying?
I am furious to have learned this week that bullying has already happened at age 5 and 6 to my niece and to my cousin’s son. Here are the Facebook comments for you from their parents:
- “Parents of bullies need to be called when the incident occurs and told to come to the school and take their kids home. I had to miss work last year a few days last year when (my daughter) wouldn’t go to school because of a bully….that just affects the victims family! Parents of bullies need to be forced to take the issue seriously. It would give the bullied victim a chance to recover for the rest of their day and focus on their schoolwork instead of waiting for that bully to strike again that day. This is a violence free way of protecting victims and school districts should adopt it as policy!”
- “I have a five yr old who is learning about peer pressure and bullying at school, but I can’t get time off to speak with his teacher because it costs me too much not to go to work (as a teacher) …I would have to prep the day for my replacement, and because I spent an hour talking with (my son) I don’t have my marking or prep ready for tomorrow… bullying takes up a lot of my day at school too…”
- “Bullying is a parenting issue… and so many people are struggling with parenting too – there needs to be more support for parents.”And a possible solution from another family member living in Alberta:Something needs to be done. That (bullying) is the main reason that (my son) goes to the school I work at. From Kindergarten the bullying program is applied and as a result we are almost a bully free system.School Spaces
Tri-city moms living in the Burke Mountain area in Port Coquitlam and in East Maple Ridge posted that they are very concerned about school spaces because of the hold on capital projects. Comments on Facebook included:
“In east maple ridge there is not enough (schools)! people across the street at albion elementary can not attend, craziness and then instead of possibly adding more school to the huge vacant lot beside it they build more housing? also more housing to go in 400 homes on Jackson Hill, where will they attend? I moved into Thornhill and they changed our catchment from Albion to another school so we have a 10 min drive to school instead of 3 min to Albion? The schools are getting packed in East Maple Ridge yet they keep building more houses.”
“There are no new schools in the Burke Mountain area yet. I read in the paper a week or so ago that there is a hold on any capital projects which means no new schools for an area that is rapidly growing. (My son) doesn’t start school for a couple of years but we aren’t even sure that the high school that is planned for the area will be built in time for him to attend it.”
- I am concerned about the impacts of climate change today and in the coming years.
- I am wondering why governments in Canada and across the world are not doing more. I know times are tough economically but is there a clear vision to solve this problem?
- I admit that I hated it when gas just went up again because of the carbon tax but I get that it is related to solving the climate change issue.
- Please provide more information about what is happening in BC to work on the crucial issue of climate change and where the money from the carbon tax goes.
- As a woman and a mother, participating in this round table was a very empowering experience. Thank you again for the chance to share my thoughts.
So this was my experience, perhaps a once in a lifetime opportunity to speak in person with the Premier of the Province. What would you say if you had a 2 minute opportunity to speak with her?