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An estimated 776,000 young Canadian children live in areas of the country parched of available daycare spaces, suggests a new report that outlines the statistical flip side of high child-care costs in some parts of the country.

The study by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, released on Thursday, says 44 per cent of all non-school-age children – under the age of 5 – live in so-called “child-care deserts” where the number of children outstrips the available spaces in licensed homes and centres.

The study didn’t take into account unlicensed daycare because there is no exhaustive list of spaces Canada-wide.

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Researchers found cities in provinces that take a more active role in regulating child care were more likely to have broader coverage, compared with those provinces that took a hands-off approach to regulation and let the market dictate prices and locations of spaces.

As a result, the report concludes, fewer than 5 per cent of children in Charlottetown and Quebec cities were underserved, compared with Saskatoon, where every child lived in a child-care desert.

“Most of the patterns in the market system reflect what providers want; they don’t reflect what parents want because providers locate where they want to locate,” said David Macdonald, a senior economist at the centre and author of the study.

“It illustrates the other side of child care.”

Spaces were also crowded around urban cores, and less prevalent in suburbs and rural areas of the country.

Toronto’s child-care spaces were concentrated around the Yonge Street corridor heading right up to Highway 401. beyond that stretch, coverage rates dropped, meaning that parents may be doing a double commute daily – to and from daycare, and then to and from the office.

The same wasn’t true in Quebec. On the island of Montreal, there were enough spaces for the number of children and the same was true in the surrounding areas.

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“Quebec shows a bit of a different model, and that’s in part due to the fact that the province is much more involved in child care there – not only setting the fees, but also planning where these centres should go,” Mr. Macdonald said. “You end up with a lot fewer deserts.”

The Trudeau Liberals are providing federal cash for child care to the provinces and territories over the next 10 years, the first three of which are subject to funding agreements.

Plans submitted by most provinces and territories show that approximately 9,700 new spaces will be created over the next three years as a result of federal funding. The number doesn’t include Ontario and Quebec, whose plans don’t break down the precise impact of federal funding.

Of the spaces to be created, some will target underserved communities, while others will target marginalized populations such as those living in low-income and recent immigrants. Other spending will create daycare spaces for parents working irregular hours like shift work.

The report says smart public policy is needed if the federal and provincial governments want to meet their grand promises on child care.

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