Nova Scotia

Female entrepreneurs in N.S. vow not to 'cave' in child-care showdown

Daycare owners in Nova Scotia say the terms attached to federal assistance make them feel backed into a corner.

Some daycare owners say they feel bullied and backed into a corner by the province

Daycare owners in Nova Scotia say they feel 'bullied' by the province and the ultimatum that underpins its publicly funded daycare proposal. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

Some women who operate private daycares in Nova Scotia are vowing to stand their ground in the face of a provincial ultimatum about the future of their businesses.

In its effort to create a $10 per day child-care system, the province is telling private daycare providers they have a choice: surrender their licence and work under a centralized bureaucracy, or keep the status quo and lose all government funding.

Marcia Nickerson started Allegro child-care centre in Halifax 25 years ago and said she's not about to give up the career and business that she's built over the past 25 years. 

"I'm feeling devastated," she said. "I'm feeling sad that we've come to this … and I feel we've been backed into a corner. But make no mistake, we're not caving in that corner."

She said she doubts the government would negotiate this way in a male-dominated field.

"Would that really happen anywhere else? It's very, very unfortunate that in 2022 that women are being positioned like this. It's heartbreaking, to tell you the truth."

An 'affront' to women

According to a document the Education Department shared this week with commercial licence holders, centres have until mid-March to decide whether to continue with their current approach — and forfeit all government funding.

Alternatively, they can transition to become part of the Canada-Nova Scotia Canada-wide Early Learning and Child Care Agreement, or operate as a non-profit centre.

A Yarmouth-based accountant who works with four private daycares is calling the proposal "an affront" to women entrepreneurs.

Adam Axworthy of Axworthy and Associates provides accounting services to two daycares in the Yarmouth region and two more in Cape Breton. He said they've all reached out to him for some kind of guidance about how to respond to the governments' demands.

But Axworthy said he doesn't have enough information to help his clients make a choice — which is doubly frustrating given the industry is dominated by women. 

"We are in a time where we should be embracing equality and pushing female entrepreneurship," he said. "We shouldn't be restricting it, and we certainly should give them the decency of adequate answers to form an opinion. We haven't done that here.

"There is so much of a push federally, at the moment, for female entrepreneurship and equality. I find this to be quite … an affront to that."

The province has offered private daycare operators $15,000 to solicit advice from consultants or accountants.

Not enough information

Nickerson said she has other concerns about the proposal. While she supports a more generous subsidy for child care, she said this approach "institutionalizes" child care.

She said that parents who are celebrating a $10/day child-care plan may lose the ability to choose where their children go.

"It all depends on where a spot is available," she said.

Axworthy said he's missing some key information about the government's publicly funded plan. In most cases, he said, the daycare operators own their real estate and have mortgages and loans.

"You can't make a decision until you have facts," he said. "What will the lease look like? How much will they get for their real estate? What will all of the costs be and how will they be funded? Can they pay their light bill?"

Lack of details leads to confusion

That confusion and pressure is being felt throughout the industry.

Brigette Forrestall, co-owner of Red Apple Children's Centre in Antigonish, said she has yet to seek advice from an accountant, simply because she has no information about the options to share.

She and her partner, Haley Jordan, bought the centre in July 2021.

They have a mortgage and two loans.

"There are really no details to give your accountant," Forrestall said. "There were no numbers."

She said she's feeling bullied by the province.

"I think that they were hoping that they could push us aside a little."

Minister urges patience

Becky Druhan, Nova Scotia's minister of education and early childhood development, said the province recognizes the service offered by private daycare providers and wants them to be successful in the new system.

Druhan said she understands providers received a lot of information last week and they have many questions.

"I completely hear their anxiety," she told CBC News on Wednesday.

"I want them to know that we're working hard and are working on communicating with them and engaging with them so that we can understand and answer those questions for them so they're confident in their future in the system, as well."

The $15,000 grant, Druhan said, was made available so providers could speak to their professional advisers, lawyers and accountants for guidance.

Noting that she understands the March 18 deadline for providing feedback has been causing anxiety for providers, Druhan said "no negative consequences are going to happen on that date and if they haven't made a choice."

She said the department is committed to engaging with providers before and after the deadline.

Druhan also said the structure and details of the new central agency to be created by the province are still being worked out.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Preston Mulligan has been a reporter in the Maritimes for more than 20 years. Along with his reporting gig, he also hosts CBC Radio's Sunday phone-in show, Maritime Connection.

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