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Brampton explores childcare for parents who want to take part in council meetings

A Brampton councillor hopes city staff will find a way to provide cost-effective child care during council meetings so that parents can participate.

Coun. Charmaine Williams pitched the idea last month. Williams, who represents wards seven and eight, is herself a mother of five children.

“We need to build bridges to democracy and we need to be encouraging families to participate” in municipal affairs, she said on Saturday.

“I think it’s important that we as a city break down any barriers that prevent families from participating in all of this — the decisions that we make here in the city.”

Williams said she has heard from constituents who have expressed that they wish it was easier to have their voices heard in the council chambers. She cited the recent debate around whether to allow brick-and-mortar cannabis retail stores in Brampton as an instance in which childcare may have allowed more residents to weigh in.

“You know, it’s 2019. And no parent should say, ‘I can’t make it because of my kids.’ You need to make it because of your kids,” she continued.

The program would not be available to councillors, she added.

Some other Brampton councillors were receptive to the idea. However, the proposal garnered some opposition when city staff reported that providing child care during council meetings would cost as much as $38,000 per year, or $1,000 per session.

“I’m not sure if that’s really a sound investment using taxpayers dollars,” said Coun. Gurpreet Singh Dhillon, adding that there are other ways for constituents to weigh-in on municipal matters, including traditional mail and email.

“There’s so many other ways you can contact your elected official … As a councillor, when somebody is not able to come directly meet me, I’m able to go to them and listen to their views,” he said.

Dhillon also expressed concern that the program wouldn’t generate enough interest to make the cost worthwhile.

“I really haven’t heard too much about parents not being able to come to council because of a lack of childcare.”

Similar proposals have been floated in other Canadian cities, such as in St. John’s. However, the cost of such an initiate has proven to be a sticking point.

Even Williams said she would not support implementing free childcare for parents during city council meetings at the expense currently cited by city staff. Councillors have since asked staff to explore the option of partnering with local YMCAs to help reduce costs.

A new report should be brought before council in the coming weeks.

“I think when we go back and look at more cost effective ways we’ll come up with a good solution for our city,” Williams said.

As for concerns about how many residents would actually make use of the program, Williams believes that attitudes might change once such an option is actually available to voters.

“I’m a big believer in, ‘If you build it, they will come.’ And if you have childcare here available to families, people will start to use it,” she said.

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