When Shelley Sheppard penned a heartfelt letter to Premier Christy Clark last month, she was hoping her message, from one mother to another, would get through.

“I would go so far as to say that the child care system is failing and my son has paid the ultimate price,” Sheppard wrote, referring to the death of her 16-month-old son, Macallan Wayne Saini, in January at an unlicensed Vancouver daycare. 

The letter took her weeks to write, Sheppard says. And with the election just days away, both she and Chris Saini, her partner and Mac’s father, felt compelled to speak out in their first television interview.

“I wish the election was next year, so we would have more time to prepare and to grieve,” Saini says.

When Clark responded to Sheppard’s letter at a news conference in April, she was empathetic, but stuck to her party’s platform.

“The thought for any mother of losing a child, it’s the worst possible thing that can happen to anybody,” Clark said. She went on to explain that “the focus for us is to make sure we get those 8,000 spaces up and running,” referring to the Liberals' promise to fund some 13,000 new licensed child care spaces by 2020.

“To be honest, I cried when I saw her response on TV,” Sheppard says. “I felt dismissed, and I was hopeful for more.”

“Our MP wrote us back,” Saini adds. “Our MLA wrote us back. The Prime Minister’s Office wrote us back. But our own premier, as we pleaded with her publicly, didn’t write us back. Not even her office. And we thought that was in very poor taste.”

Despite repeated requests, Clark did not comment on camera about the case on Friday, but issued a short statement in response.

"My heart goes out to the family, who is dealing with a terrible tragedy," the statement said.

"I agree that we must always be working to ensure our system is always focused on the child. I've spoken often about the need to increase care spaces."

But Saini and Sheppard call the Liberals promise to add more spaces a “drop in the bucket” that will do nothing to fix a system they say is cobbled together with “duct tape” and “bubble gum.”

As best as they can, they say they’ve channeled their overwhelming grief into pushing for political change, coming out in support of the NDP-backed $10-a-day child care plan.

“It's so important,” Sheppard says, clutching Mac’s tiny toy horse in her hand, “not only for the safety of our children, but for quality, and affordability, and accessibility. Our children deserve that. Our babies deserve to be in a place that's safe.”

Grieving parents call for daycare funding

Vancouver police say Baby Mac’s death is still under investigation, and Mac’s parents say they have no choice but to wait for answers from the VPD and the BC Coroner.

“We don’t even know what happened,” Saini says. “We don’t even know how he died.”

“For now we kind of have to go on what we assumed happened,” Sheppard adds. “It’s all that we know.”

Vancouver police say they are looking into whether there may be a case for negligence against the operator of that unlicensed daycare.

A previous two-part CTV News investigation found the same operator had a previous complaint that health authorities investigated in 2010.

While Saini and Sheppard say they did “all the checks any diligent parent would do,” they say they were not aware of that history, and at the time, they had no other options.

“This could happen to anyone at any time,” Saini says. “And I’m sure it’s happening out there right now.”

And that means no matter which way the vote goes next Tuesday, they’re not giving up.

“We’re not going to go away,” Sheppard says. “We’re going to continue to advocate for change.”

“Although my son died,” Saini says, choking back tears, “my love for him never will. It’s my love from him that’s my motivation to create change.”

daycare funding