North

Universal childcare would cost N.W.T. $20 million a year: study

Creating universal, affordable child care in the Northwest Territories would cost the territory $21 million a year and would be a major bump to the economy, according to a recent study commissioned by the government.

Study is critical of N.W.T's childcare funding, says many parents can't get ahead

Feasibility study on universal childcare in the N.W.T. says between 718 and 1,415 spaces would need to be created to ensure every child has access to care. Childcare centres would need to be opened up in N.W.T. schools. (CBC)

Creating universal, affordable child care in the Northwest Territories would cost the territory $21 million a year and would be a major bump to the economy, according to a recent study commissioned by the Government of the Northwest Territories.

The feasibility study, authored by two University of Toronto professors, looked at what it would take for the N.W.T. government to implement a child care policy similar to Quebec's. In that province, parents pay an average of $7 per child a day for child care.

Parents in the N.W.T. currently pay between $45 and $62 per child a day. Many of the people interviewed by the study's authors said they spend half of their monthly income on child care.

"The N.W.T.'s child care system is immature, more closely resembling a cottage industry than a universal service," the study says.

Between 221 and 299 additional early childhood educators would need to be trained and hired to accommodate the increase in children enrolled in child care programs in N.W.T.

Increase spending by 175%

The study, tabled in the legislature June 4, was critical of how much the government currently spends on child care.

"Among Canadian jurisdictions, the N.W.T. spends below the Canadian average," it says.

In order to create child care that only costs parents $7 per child a day, the study says the territory would have to increase its spending by 175 per cent, to about $21 million.

The study was also critical of the lack of subsidies given out by the government. The report says government subsidies only made up 1 per cent of child care spending in the territory. In 2014-2015, only 51 people qualified for the N.W.T's child care subsidy.

In Quebec, 85 per cent of the cost of child care comes from the government. 

Employment rates for mothers in the N.W.T. predicted to rise between 1 and 7 per cent if universal childcare created. (CBC)

Not enough space

Right now, there aren't enough child care centres in the territory to meet demand, the study says.

Parents interviewed cited long wait lists, especially for infant spaces, with some even saying they had to move to another community to find child care. 

Twelve communities in the territory don't have licensed child care centres. The study says centres would need to be created in eight communities (Fort Liard, Colville Lake, Dettah, Enterprise, Lutselk'e, Norman Wells, Tsiigehtchic and Wrigley).

Between 718 and 1,415 spaces would need to be created to make sure child care is available to every child in the N.W.T. An additional 250 child care workers would need to be hired to staff the centres. 

In order to create a universal system, the territory would need to use extra space in schools to bring child care centres to every community. The study says there is enough space to accomplish that.

Increased employment

The study also says the creation of universal child care in the N.W.T would mean more mothers joining the workforce.

"The employment rate of mothers is predicted to increase between one and seven per cent points, which translates to 76 to 727 more mothers in the workforce," the study says.

That translates to between an extra $214,700 and $2,052,775 in income tax revenue. The study also says more mothers working outside of the home could mean less families needing income assistance.

A universal system is still a long way away. Though the study has been tabled in the legislature, it still needs to go up for debate.

No word on whether that will happen before a new territorial government is elected.

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