Nova Scotia’s Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development says a missed deadline will not impact access to $123 million in federal funding under the Canada-wide Child Care Agreement for Nova Scotia.

“The timing of the finalizing of our action plan has no impact at all on the availability of funding right now for the work that’s underway,” Becky Druhan said in an interview with the Halifax Examiner on Thursday. 

“We will not leave any funding on the table this year or throughout the course of the agreement.”

Druhan was addressing information contained in a Nova Scotia NDP Caucus media release on Wednesday. 

In the release, NDP leader Claudia Chender expressed concerns that as families across the province continue struggling to find affordable child care, the government had failed to prepare its Child Care Action Plan for 2023-2026. 

The NDP said that meant leaving this year’s $123 million in federal funding on the table. 

In an interview on Thursday, Chender said many parents in the province are “desperate” to return to work. But an inability to access child care is making that impossible.

“There are so few spaces available that at this point, low cost is really important, but access is actually the most important,” Chender said. 

“The reality is right now that people in this province so often cannot access childcare at all. That creates a huge issue, and it especially creates a huge issue for women.”

‘Pushing them to complete the plan’

Chender said child care has long been “extraordinarily hard to find,” but in recent years access has gotten worse. With the level of federal investment, she said she finds that “mystifying.”

“I think that they (provincial government) have to be honest about what they have done so far. Which is, from our perspective, not very much, or at the very least not enough, and what they intend to do,” Chender said. 

“This action plan provides a really good opportunity for that. This is why we’re pushing for them to complete it as soon as possible, to not leave that federal funding on the table and to make sure that we increase access to affordable, accessible childcare as soon as possible right across this province.”

‘Unequivocally, we are on track’

Under the Nova Scotia Canada-Wide Early Learning and Child Care Agreement, Nova Scotia families with children in licensed child care will benefit from $10-a-day child care (on average) by March 31, 2026.

In January, 2022, the province announced a 25% reduction. That was followed by a second 25% reduction at the end of December, 2022. That means fees for most families are (on average) 50% lower than they were in 2019.

One parent who reached out to the Halifax Examiner expressed concerns about what the missed deadline might mean for their family, and whether they’d now be on the hook for the 50% fee reduction they’re currently enjoying under the bilateral agreement.

Druhan said that’s definitely not the case. 

“I can say unequivocally that we are on track with our work to expand access to child care in Nova Scotia. Funds are available for the work that we’re doing, and we’re full steam ahead with all of that work,” she said. 

“Fees will continue to be reduced, and we’ll continue to support all of the positive changes that we’ve made, including the supports that we’re providing to operators and the increased wages for our ECES.”

Plan will be completed by year’s end

Department spokesperson Carole Rankin said the province will receive the federal funds when its action plan is completed.

While there was no set deadline, she said the federal government would’ve preferred its completion by the beginning of the fiscal year. 

“But to my knowledge, only one province has been able to get an action plan in at this stage,” Rankin said. “Funding will flow when the action plan is completed. We’re aiming for before the end of the year, but are saying end of year just to be cautious.”

Like her counterparts across the country, Druhan said she’s involved in a collaborative process with the federal government to renew and update the province’s child care action plan.

“Our teams have been working together to do exactly that,” Druhan said. “I’m looking forward to the next action plan being finalized and helping to provide guidance for us as we go forward in the next few years of this work.” 

She also emphasized that she and her department have an excellent working relationship with their federal counterparts, and their goals are “all very much in alignment.” 

Engaging the sector

Noting that her department inherited the first action plan from the previous provincial government, Druhan said they wanted to do more to build on it.

That included establishing an engagement table that includes a range of people from within the child care sector across the province. That group, she said, continues to guide their decision-making.

“With the guidance of that table, we did other things that went above and beyond what was contained in the first action plan,” she said. “So, for example, when we implemented 14% to 43% wage increases for ECEs across the province…That was above and beyond what was called for in the action plan.” 

‘We’ve never had enough child care spaces’

Druhan said the child care sector has faced significant challenges for decades.

“To be clear, we have never had enough child care spaces in Nova Scotia,” she said.

Those challenges, she said, have been exacerbated by issues currently facing all sectors. Among them, Druhan pointed to the number of people retiring and construction slowdowns.

“One of the things that’s happening through the course of this work that we do is those broader challenges that exist outside of our transformation work are all often misattributed to the work that’s underway,” Druhan said. 

“And it increases fear in the public and concern in the public. Which is really unfortunate because this is really incredible, important work.” 

‘Doesn’t happen overnight’

Despite the challenges, Druhan remains optimistic.

“It doesn’t happen overnight. If I could wave a magic wand and have all of this work done instantly, I absolutely would,” Druhan said. 

Acknowledging the stress and worry many families are facing as they struggle to find child care, Druhan said she “absolutely understands.” 

“We are working as hard and as fast as we can to build out our child care system so that we have child care available to everyone who needs it, wherever they live, whenever they work,” she said. 

New spaces

A freedom of information request filed by the Nova Scotia NDP and released in June found that of the 1,500 new child care spots in centres and through family home providers expected by the end of 2022, the government had only opened 28 net new spaces province-wide as of May 2023. 

The Department of Education and Early Childhood Development said Thursday that as of June 30, 2023 it had created more than 2,000 spaces, but they lost 884 spaces due to closures.

Of the 1,203 remaining spaces, 222 are child care centre spaces, 213 are family home spaces, and 768 are spaces in before and after school programs.*

*This calculation of child care spaces has been updated.

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

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  1. I have read on this subject, but I am not an expert; so, if this has been addressed previously, please do not be offended. NS is not the first province to undertake “universal childcare” or whatever name one wishes to assign the concept. Quebec has been in this “business” for more than 20 years. I have read of their experiences and challenges, and we seem to be mirroring their early days. When I read of their implementation, I find myself wondering how we manage to repeat the same missteps that they made if we are researching before we act. I do not understand this. As a retired aerospace engineer, if I had acted before researching, and not incorporated others’ lessons learned in my solution, I would have been fired. Is NS just that unique, or are we simply that inept?

  2. Thanks for the clarification on this.
    I know,as do Examiner readers I sense, that with the numbers game played by all politicians- whether in the Legislature,in committee, at law amendments,in news releases,… – there is always a spin to the #’s. Slice it any way you want, the #’s when it comes to people without a family physician are not good. The numbers when it comes to kids not reading at grade level are not good. The numbers, when the demand for child care spaces is so high, are not good. If we had a meter with a needle indicator for each topic of importance to citizens, how many of those needle points would be pointing at ‘ not good’?
    I am at this point now- no matter who the politician is; no matter what party is making some point, I point my needle at ‘damn skeptical’ whenever I hear words like these in their communications: “key informants”, “stakeholders”, “initiatives”, “monitoring closely”, “mission statement”, “long range planning document/ five year plan”,…

    What expertise I do have is in the education field so here’s something from it: 2018 EECD introduced MTSS (multi tiered system of supports); five years in , there is no precise metering of how this system has served students,parents and teachers. The only meter is the ‘developmental implementation assessment’ by Whitley et al- that is the sole measure of simply how the implementation of MTSS went from the perspective of administrators largely( “key informants”)- nothing about the actual functioning of MTSS ; there is no meter, no needle point for students and parents. Navel gazing is not a meaningful measure of the efficacy of MTSS. Students are back in class in just over two weeks. Getting a reading on how well suited the educational program for your child is , is a hard thing to do and that is – not good. Be the best advocate that you can be is what you are left with.

  3. Maybe it’s me , but this line from EECD ,as reported, seems imprecise and not even possible- ‘…it created 1203 net spaces…’ . Well, you do not create ‘net spaces’; you create spaces. ‘net’ is the number of spaces when lost spaces are subtracted from “created spaces”. So, is the # of net spaces 319 or is it 1203? It is confusing. (The province has a very long way to go to create the conditions needed to serve the parents of these kids.)

    Here’s how it can be displayed:

    Lost : 884 (due to closures)
    Created: 1,203

    Net ????