N.S. child-care fees to drop to $10 a day by 2026 under new $605M deal
New federal-provincial agreement will also reduce fees by half by the end of next year
A $605-million agreement between the Nova Scotia and federal governments will see child-care costs halved in the province by the end of next year and become on average $10 a day by 2026.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Premier Iain Rankin made the announcement Tuesday, with Trudeau appearing virtually, at a news conference at Mount Saint Vincent University's Child Study Centre in Halifax.
"Together we have crafted a partnership that will benefit generations of children," Rankin said. "Today we are ensuring that every single child in Nova Scotia has a more equitable beginning to their life."
The funding, which will be rolled out over five years, will create 9,500 early learning and child-care spaces, including new spaces for infants and toddlers, by March 31, 2025, and a new early learning program for three-year-olds, which will be included in existing child-care centres.
Before- and after-school care options will also be enhanced, Rankin said.
Province to kick in $40M over 5 years
Under the agreement, Ottawa will commit $605 million over five years and the provincial government will add another $40 million, on top of what it currently spends on the sector.
Child-care fees in the Halifax area are, on average, between $868 and $957 per month, depending on the age of the child, according to a report released in March by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
Nova Scotia's Department of Education and Early Childhood Development said the average fee for preschool children now is $34 a day, though in parts of the province it's $44.
It said regulated daycares have about 17,000 spaces in Nova Scotia, but it doesn't count non-licensed day cares.
Nova Scotia Education Minster Derek Mombourquette said the goal is $10 a day, but it would be on a sliding scale, based on ability to pay, to reflect the fact that for some people even $10 is too expensive.
"We wanted to be as flexible as possible to ensure that we could support every family to make [the service] as accessible as possible to all families across the province," he said.
The province will create a new organization to oversee all regulated child care, but the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development will regulate the new body.
Nova Scotia is the second province, behind British Columbia last week, to sign on to a federal offer from April that pledged $27.2 billion over five years in new spending that Ottawa aims to send to provinces to subsidize daycares.
"We're building a better future for families and for our economy," Trudeau said at the announcement. "Creating a strong early learning and child-care system represents a way to build communities and the most effective step we can take to support our economy in the short, medium and long term."
Trudeau said the funding is not dependent upon the Liberals being re-elected.
"This agreement is now signed between the Government of Canada and the province of Nova Scotia," he told reporters after the announcement. "There is nothing that is contingent on anything happening or not happening in the coming months or year."
New funding for early childhood educators
An extra $22.5 million in federal funding was also announced Tuesday, including $11.6 to extend the federal-provincial early learning and child-care agreement for 2021-22, and a one-time investment of $10.9 million, which will support Nova Scotia's excellence in early childhood education workforce strategy.
The money will be used to:
- Provide free tuition and books for over 300 staff now working in child care and pre-primary without a diploma, with designated seats for Indigenous, Black, Acadian/francophone Nova Scotians and newcomers.
- Give trained ECEs who work in provincially funded child-care centres a one-time, $500 grant.
- Develop a new framework by 2022 to improve pay and benefits for ECEs working in government-funded, licensed child-care facilities.
- Give bursaries to 300 students now enrolled in full-time ECE diploma or degree programs.
- Introduce a regulated certification process for ECEs.
- Create a post-diploma training program that would allow ECEs to specialize and advance in a particular area of practice.
Terrah Keener, dean of the Nova Scotia Community College's school of access, education and language, said it's notable that the agreement includes a plan to address wages and benefits for ECEs.
Keener said low wages have been a challenge when it comes to recruiting and retaining people in the sector.
"People want to know that they're going into a sector that has a trajectory, that has a career," she said.
"And when the wages top off at about $20 an hour, that is not seen as a sustainable career enough, though people who are in it love it; they are committed, dedicated and many do stay in it. But it is a sacrifice to themselves and to their own families to not be compensated, I think, appropriately for the work that they're doing."
Impact on women and families
Ahmed Hussen, the federal minister of social development, attended the announcement in person and said child care has been a struggle for many families even before the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Far too many parents — especially women with children — have had to make a difficult choice between staying at home to take care of the kids and going back to work to provide [for] them. But what kind of choice is that? It's not really a choice."
The executive director of YWCA Halifax, Miia Suokonautio, said Tuesday's announcement has the potential to change people's lives because child care is not accessible to many families right now, particularly lone-parent households and people living below the poverty line.
She said she hopes planning for the future of the child-care sector will include offering extended hours at daycares to accommodate the schedules of people who work shift work, such as grocery clerks, nurses and restaurant servers.
Suokonautio also said the commitment to improving wages will be pivotal for people who work in the child-care sector, especially since the increase in the number of child-care spaces will require hiring many more workers in an industry that is already facing a labour shortage.
Most workers in the sector make between $15 and $19 an hour.
"We really would like to see comprehensive salary increases … similar to school teachers, as well as good benefits, and a capacity to be able to retire and take sick time."
With files from Michael Gorman and Jean Laroche