A box of coloured crayons stands in the foreground while a child is slightly out of focus in the background colouring on a piece of paper.
Photo: Aaron Burden

Friday’s announcement that eligible parents and caregivers will save 25% on child care fees retroactive from Jan. 1, and 50% by year’s end, was greeted with cautious optimism by advocates.

“It is historic. It is hard not to stand back sometimes and go ‘Oh God. They’re doing this. They’re investing and they are investing in the right things, they really are,’” Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives-Nova Scotia (CCPA-NS) director Christine Saulnier said in an interview on Friday.

“But we just want to not lose the bigger picture and ensure that it’s being done and rolled out the right way. That’s my goal.”

Saulnier is also a Child Care Now NS steering committee member. Members of that coalition have spent years advocating for a universal, publicly funded, not-for-profit early learning and child care system in Nova Scotia.

Last June, the group shared its recommendations for what the system should look like in this province.

During a video conference with federal officials including the prime minister, the province announced it was ahead of schedule in its commitment to lower child care fees under the Canada-wide Early Learning and Child Care Agreement announced last July.

Parents and caregivers will benefit from a decrease of 25% (on average) retroactive to Jan. 1, a savings of $200 a month for a toddler in child care. That fee reduction will be 50% by the end of this year.

“For parents, this means hundreds of dollars more in your pocket each month, whether to put healthy food on the table, or sign up the kids for soccer camp or after school activities,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said during Friday’s conference. “If you’ve got two children, saving $400 a month is a big deal.”

‘Something many could only dream about’

Parents will continue to pay their current child care rate until April 1. At that point, they’ll opt to receive a cheque from their child care centre reflecting the January to March reduction, or they can get a credit.

Going forward, caregivers will then pay the reduced rate through centres that have joined the Canada-wide early learning and child-care system.

“Making child care more affordable helps address child poverty, it supports women, and it supports families. And this is just the beginning,” Premier Tim Houston said during the video conference.

“Affordable, quality child care across the province is something many could only dream about in the past.”

Also announced Friday morning was the addition of 1,500 new, not-for-profit child-care spaces beginning this fall. This is part of the province’s plan to provide 9,500 new early learning and child-care spaces by March 31, 2026.

“The new spaces will be made available in more communities across Nova Scotia, with the goal of equitable access to affordable, accessible child care everywhere in the province,” noted a Department of Education and Early Childhood Development press release.

“Communities with limited care options will soon have access to licensed child care for infants and toddlers, along with before and after school programs.”

The province also committed to continuing with its implementation of Nova Scotia’s Excellence in Early Childhood Education workforce strategy, intended to provide higher wages for early childhood educators and free tuition, books, and bursaries for hundreds of people taking courses in early childhood education.

Mount Saint Vincent University professor and early childhood development and policy expert Jessie-Lee McIssac was one of several invited guests for Friday’s announcement.

A smiling young woman in a bright pink top and black sweater leans on a desk smiling at the camera.
Mount Saint Vincent University professor Jessie-Lee McIsaac. Photo: MSVU

“Not only does this agreement address the critical needs of families. It also offers a shift in the way that we think about and deliver early learning and child care in the province,” McIsaac said during Friday’s video conference.

“We’re moving from what some have called a patchwork of care to a system that places value on the need for a diverse and highly trained workforce who will also be fairly compensated for their work.”

‘First step in the right direction’

In a media release, CUPE Nova Scotia called Friday’s announcement good news and “the first step in the right direction.”

“Now we want to see the government put the same amount of effort to improve working conditions and compensation for early childhood educators,” Naomi Stewart, CUPE’s child care sector coordinator, said in the release. “Early childhood educators need the government to work as hard for them as they have for parents.”

Stewart said their members are overworked, tired, and don’t receive enough compensation for their important work.

“Recruitment is not going to work if there are not adequate improvements to their wages, benefits, and working conditions,” Stewart said.

In a media release, the province’s NDP called Friday’s announcement “an historic advancement on affordable childcare.”

The party’s Education and Early Childhood Development spokesperson Suzy Hansen said more families able to access child care at a more affordable rate will make a “huge difference.”

“As part of this transition, the government must work with operators and child care providers to minimize disruption to the sector and ensure Early Childhood Educators have access to wages and benefits that reflect the importance of the work they do,” Hansen said in the release.

‘What it takes to get there’

Saulnier, CCPA-NS director, agreed. While she commends the provincial government for doing “all the right things,” her concerns include a lack of transparency and data around wages, the transition from for-profit to non-profit centres, and the recruitment and retention of early childhood educators (ECEs).

A woman in a dark coloured top and vibrant necklace sits in a red chair looking into the camera with a somewhat serious face.
Christine Saulnier, Nova Scotia director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA-NS). Photo: Trevor Beckerson, Foundary Photography

Unless you’re retaining current ECEs, you’re going to lose spaces unless you’re resourcing this transition in a way that isn’t overburdening the sector and volunteers. I realize that they’re in this space where they’re trying to move what is a patchwork quilt of programs into a system.

I’m over the top thrilled that they’ve heard our main message, which is we need to move from that patchwork of programs into a publicly managed, non-profit, quality, inclusive, affordable child care system. That’s the bottom line for me. I really do see that they are looking at system transformation, but what it takes to get there? I have lots of concerns.

Saulnier is pleased the province is creating a central agency to oversee the program. But while that’s being implemented, she questioned what’s being “downloaded” onto the sector during what she calls a “critical” transition period.

“My concern is that it’s this complicated scheme that will be on providers to figure out. One of our main recommendations…is that child care centres should not be the entity that’s collecting fees. That could be the central agency,” Saulnier said.

“Now I realize that’s not in place, but you just create it. You just expedited a fee reduction without really thinking through what the implications are for child care centres and the additional work that has just been downloaded onto them.”

In an email Friday evening, a spokesperson for the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development provided more details.

Lynette Macleod said costs for child care are not “a one size fits all,” and the monthly cost depends on a child’s age and the care provider. She said the 25% reduction will apply to all ages, including infants.

“On average, parents and caregivers will pay approximately $200 less a month for a toddler in child care. That amount would be +/- depending on age and provider,” Macleod wrote.

Macleod said communications will be sent to child care providers to clarify “important details” following today’s announcement. She also stressed that child care centres won’t absorb the costs of the reduction.

“More details to centres will follow in the coming weeks on terms and conditions for the funding and how they will submit claims for reimbursement,” Macleod wrote.

The fee reduction will be available to all families whose children attend a funded licensed child care centre from January to March 2022.

Beginning April 1, 2022, the fee reduction will only be available to those families whose children attend child care centres that are part of the Canada-wide system.

“We are working closely with the for-profit sector to provide them with options and support for joining the new system including funding to help them transition their business model or operating independently,” Macleod wrote.

The department said at any given time, approximately 70% of child care spaces are filled. Macleod said there were no centres that closed specifically due to COVID-19.

At the time of the mandated closure in March of 2020, there were about 19,400 child care spaces across the province. There are currently about 17,375 spaces.

The Government of Canada’s expenditure for the national early learning and child care system in Nova Scotia is $605 million from 2021-2022 to 2025-2026. In addition, the federal government provided a one-time spend of $10.9 million in 2021-2022 to support the province’s early childhood workforce.

Under the Canada-wide agreement, fees for regulated child-care will drop to $10 a day, on average, across Canada by March 31, 2026.

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Yvette d’Entremont is a bilingual (English/French) journalist and editor who enjoys covering health, science, research, and education.

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  1. This is wonderful news that has been a very long time coming. I worked for St. Joseph’s Children’s Centre (SJCC) in the ’80’s and ’90’s and was aware of years of advocacy by leaders like Margie Vignault (I apologize if the spelling is wrong); Valerie Blaauw, Sue Wolstenholme of SJCC and many others including a one day provincial strike around 1990. Another strike was threatened in 2011 at SJCC – I don’t know what came of that. Sadly Sue died recently – she would have loved to see this happening and like Christine and many others now engaged, would be watching for the implementation details.

    Hurray for progress on this!