Tofino needs more childcare facilities, but is having a tough time finding residents or entrepreneurs willing to fill that clear and frustrating gap.
The town’s municipal council is moving towards a zoning amendment that would add childcare as a permitted use in most commercial zones, while also making it easier for residents to open home-based facilities.
During a presentation to council on Oct. 24, Tofino’s manager of community sustainability Aaron Rodgers explained that the new zoning was an idea generated through a variety of council resolutions, most notably a notice of motion put forward by then-mayor Josie Osborne in January. Osborne had cited a Child Care Needs Assessment conducted by the Alberni Clayoquot Regional District in 2019, which highlighted the need for more child care spaces in Tofino.
“Through a detailed inventory and assessment, the ACRD’s report verifies and documents what is widely known: there is a shortage of licenced child care spaces in Tofino, particularly in the 0-36 month age range, and for before and after school child care,” she wrote in her notice of motion.
She also noted that one of the assessment’s recommendations was “the removal of policy barriers that might otherwise discourage or delay private or non-profit providers from starting child care facilities.”
During his presentation last week, Rodgers explained council’s strategic plan as well as the district’s official community plan and vision to action documents all identify childcare as a needed priority.
He added that anyone interested in operating a childcare facility would still need to apply for a business licence and go through provincial government protocols, but the blanket rezoning would remove a significant barrier.
Coun. Tom Stere supported the motion and said it would take away a hurdle for anyone interested in offering child care services, but asked why a public hearing would not be held to discuss the idea with the community.
Rodgers responded that the COVID-19 pandemic has made public hearings more cumbersome and added that childcare has been highlighted as a need through a variety of public venues.
“It’s not to say that we couldn’t do a survey through the community, through a web-form or online presence, but the public hearing processes can be somewhat onerous and this [rezoning] has sat for a long time and we recommended to waive [a public hearing] for that reason,” Rodgers said.
Stere asked if staff has had any conversations with School District 70 about Wickaninnish Community School’s potential for child care services and Rodgers said his office would be reaching out to SD70 in the coming months.
Stere added that he would like to see Tofino continue to be a strong voice in favour of the provincial government’s proposed universal child care plan.
Rodgers told the Westerly News after the meeting that he hopes people take advantage of the new zoning and open new child care spaces, but it would take interested applicants to get the ball rolling.
“The overall intent is to make it easier for people to operate a childcare facility, whether it’s in their home or commercially,” he said.
Rodgers said he has been with the district since 2008 and has not seen any applications for a new childcare facility cross his desk in that time. He said no childcare facility applications are currently in the queue.
“Anecdotally, I understand there may be some interest, but no one, in terms of zoning, has come in and asked to do it…If someone is interested, we just reduced a significant barrier,” he said. “We wanted to, as a district, be able to provide that opportunity if people wish to take it, but we can’t force people to start a childcare facility. That’s a business decision that someone needs to make. We know there’s a need, we’re trying to reduce barriers and, hopefully, with that reduction of barriers, somebody comes to the table to run a childcare facility.”
Tofino is one of only a handful of municipalities throughout B.C. to operate a district-run childcare facility with district staff.