What Alberta can learn from Quebec's ultra-cheap daycare industry

Child-care experts say Alberta’s upcoming $25-a-day daycare pilot is too pricey to benefit parents who will need it the most, though it will probably be better quality than the Quebec model.

‘They rolled it out too quickly and quality suffered,’ says U of C sociologist

Children put up their hands for ice cream at a daycare centre in Montreal, where daily fees range from $7.55 to $20.70. (Ian Barrett/Canadian Press)

Child-care experts say Alberta's upcoming $25-a-day daycare pilot is too pricey to benefit parents who will need it the most, though it will probably be better quality than Quebec's ultra-cheap model.

"One of the problems that Quebec was they rolled it out too quickly and quality suffered,"  Tom Langford, author of the book Alberta's Daycare Controversy, told the Calgary Eyeopener.

Daily child care has been available to Quebec parents since 1997 — starting at $5. It's since shifted to a sliding scale that starts at $7.55 per day up to $20.70 per day based on total family income.

Still, that's far less expensive than the Alberta plan.

"[It] really created a big boom, an expansion in the system because parents could afford it," said Christa Japel, a professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of Quebec who has studied the impact of her province's child care subsidies.

"I think one of the issues is the rapid expansion of the system, which created also a large sector of home-based care," she said.

According to a 2012 study by Child Care Canada, only 43 per cent of Quebec child care workers have their Early Childhood Education certification and the province has the lowest caregiver-to-kids ratio in Canada.

"When governments are comparing what a high-quality child care program can do compared to just routine babysitting, all the research suggests that the high-quality child care program is something they should invest in," said Langford, who is also a sociology professor at the University of Calgary.

"Because kids have a better start and they are more productive adults later on."

Alberta's 'go slow' approach

The $10-million Alberta pilot will be rolled out at 18 centres across the province starting in 2017, creating up to 1,000 new child spaces.

While it's a step in the right direction, Langford said it's important to note that "it's not really that big a deal."

"Our current childcare budget for Alberta is about $300-million a year. So this is just a small step forward."

That said, Langford does applaud the Alberta NDP's for taking a "go slow" approach that steers clear of "routine" babysitting.

"What they're saying is … 'We're going to have a special experiment where we're going to emphasize quality and we're going to see what works and what doesn't work, so that if we're a position to roll out the $25-a-day daycare program across the province in a couple years, we'll be in a better position to do so," he said.

Christa Japel, a professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of Quebec, doesn't think $25-a-day child care will be 'accessible' to Alberta's 'most needy.' (CBC)

$25 a day still 'a lot of money'

According to a 2015 study by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, the monthly median cost of day care in Edmonton and Calgary is between $790 and $1075 per month.

A $25-a-day system would see those prices drop to $500 per month. A total steal, right?

Not so, says Japel, adding that would still be "a lot of money" for Alberta's low-income population.

"I wonder who can afford that. I don't think it will be accessible for the most needy," she said.

"Because we notice that even if it's $5 or $7-a-day for working poor, people with low income it's still an obstacle to use childcare because it's a significant dent in the budget."

She figures it the Alberta pilot will mostly benefit middle class families — however, the provincial government has not yet said if there will be a cap on the income levels of families who can apply for spaces at the $25-a-day daycares.  


With files from the Calgary Eyeopener