A new advocacy group representing owners and operators of for-profit child care centres is trying to persuade the federal government to change the national child care plan to give money directly to parents and lift limits on the number of for-profit spaces that can be created, among other goals.
“We would like to see that funding goes directly to the family. That protects the parents’ choice. It protects our businesses from having to have cost control frameworks imposed on them, from us having to do all the administration and carry the costs of this program as well,” says Krystal Churcher, Alberta’s representative on the National Advisory Council on Private Childcare.
The group, made up of provincial associations of for-profit operators in British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, says there are too many hindrances to for-profit operators under the Canada-wide Early Learning and Child Care plan. First announced in April, 2021, the plan provides $30-billion in funding for provinces and territories over the next five years to bring child care costs to an average of $10 a day.
But critics say the group’s plan would raise parents’ fees and fail to create an accessible, equitable system.
“It’s essentially a complete rejection of the approach that’s been agreed to by the federal government and all the provinces and territories,” says Gordon Cleveland, a professor emeritus of economics at the University of Toronto who studies child care.
Currently, funding goes to operators of child care centres. The cost control frameworks, which limit fees, also set out how much daycares pay for rent and other expenses. But the language of these frameworks is too ambiguous, Ms. Churcher says.
“We’re seeing terms of our contracts like ‘reasonable expenses,’ ‘reasonable rent,’ ‘reasonable operating costs.’ But there’s no range of what reasonable is, or any description of what that might be,” she says.
The frameworks are also unfairly onerous, Ms. Churcher says.
“We are private businesses. There’s not very many other industries, I can’t even think of one, that would have a cost control framework rolled out on their private sector,” she says.
In Alberta, the government announced last month that up to 22,500 new for-profit spaces will become eligible for funding over the next three years, compared with about twice as many new non-profit spaces that will be covered under the deal by March, 2026.
“Anytime you’re restricting expansion on a sector, you’re not allowing free market,” Ms. Churcher says.
Critics of the new council’s approach say parents’ fees would likely increase and child care would become less accessible and equitable, perpetuating the problems that the child care plan was created to solve.
“The primary reliance on market-based approaches for over four decades has not worked,” says Marni Flaherty, interim CEO of the Canadian Child Care Federation. “It has resulted in regulated child care spaces for less than one in three children below the mandatory school age, required parents to pay high child care fees, and contributed to low wages and demanding working conditions for early childhood educators. It’s time that we tried another approach and the Canada-wide agreements provide us with the opportunity to do that.”
The federal government has been clear that while it is essential that for-profit providers be part of the deal, the non-profit sector would be prioritized.
Jennifer Ratcliffe, the new council’s B.C. representative, says that favouring the non-profit sector is simply a matter of optics.
“They are prioritizing the not for profits, because it’s a lot of money to put into a program. And if they were putting it into businesses, I think that the general public may have an issue with it,” she says.
But the reasons for encouraging growth in the non-profit sector over for-profits are very much evidenced-based, says Morna Ballantyne, executive director of Child Care Now, a national advocacy organization.
“The reason why the federal government has indicated that it would favour a not-for-profit and publicly delivered child care system or programs that are not-for-profit is that the evidence shows that if you have a publicly funded or publicly managed, mostly not-for-profit system, you are going to be able to address issues like equitable access, you’re going to be able to actually increase quality and keep fees down,” she says.
For example, a national study published in 2005 that looked at 325 child-care centres in Canada found that, on average, non-profit centres did better than for-profit ones on measures such as higher wages, staff training and child-worker ratios.
As well, research conducted by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives in 2019 found that for-profit centres generally charge more for preschool spaces than not-for-profit centres do. In 19 of the 25 cities for which data were available, for-profit centres charged at least 10 per cent more than not-for-profit centres. In some cities, for-profit centres’ preschool-age fees were 50 to 60 per cent higher than at non-profit centres.
Considering how many for-profit providers there are across the country – more than 60 per cent of licensed spaces in Alberta are run by for-profit operators, while approximately 30 per cent of spaces in Ontario are for-profit, for example – they must be part of the federal deal, but what the council is advocating for is antithetical to the federal government’s vision for a universal, public child care system, Ms. Ballantyne says.
“There’s definitely going to be a need for the existing for-profit providers to be part of the system. But what they’re advocating for is not a new system. They’re advocating against the kind of transformation that the federal government is promising.”