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Private daycares face uncertain future as province moves to centralize child care

Owners must change their business model or give up funding

3 min read
A toddler dressed in winter clothing jumps off of a blue crate into the snow.
caption A student at Bright Side Early Learning Centre in Cole Harbour plays outdoors in the snow. The province has agreed to give private daycare owners more time to consider their options on a new funding agreement.
Erin Angle

Private child-care centres are calling for more time and more information as they face a difficult decision: lose control over their businesses or lose their funding.

Nova Scotia signed an affordable child care agreement with the federal government in July, with the goal of $10 a day daycare, 9,500 new child-care spaces and higher salaries for child-care workers by 2026. 

But private child-care centres, which hold 57 per cent of child-care spaces in the province, cannot offer these subsidized fees for parents and higher wages for workers unless they join a new central organization being developed by the Department of Education.

The ultimatum

In a conference call last week, the department gave private child-care centre owners their options. 

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“It appears at this time that there’s no real viable option, and many are very, very concerned that they’re going to lose their lifelong investment,” said Bonnie Minard, the director of Portland Daycare Centre in Dartmouth and co-chair of the Private Licensed Administration Association of Nova Scotia.

For-profit centre owners can decide to become an approved service provider under the new system, keeping their businesses but losing control over operations such as waitlists and payroll. Or they can transition to a non-profit model and give up their businesses to the new organization. Alternatively, they can remain private and lose all funding. 

Centres that choose to change their business model will be offered a lump sum transition payment, a fraction of their typical funding, and they will not be able to sell or hand down their businesses in the future. The decision must be made by March 18.

Minard said owners were not given enough details to make a decision by the deadline. 

The province is offering a $15,000 grant for centres to seek professional advice, but “all the accountants and lawyers are saying we can’t advise without numbers,” she said. 

“They haven’t provided us with a funding formula, they haven’t provided us with the salary package, they haven’t provided us with all of those things that you would need to make a smart business decision.”

Minard said she supports affordable child care initiatives and hopes there’s a “middle ground” for private centres in the new system. 

“We all want quality, we all want it to be affordable, we want people to have choices, but we also think that we deserve time to fairly negotiate what the new system looks like.”

Impact on families and staff

Erin Angle purchased Bright Side Early Learning Centre in Cole Harbour three years ago, putting her family in debt. She said she’s concerned about the effects the new government-run system will have on families and her staff. 

Angle said nearly half of the families who use her centre have their fees subsidized by the government, and if she decided to remain private, they would lose that support. 

She said centres may have to close if they decide the options aren’t viable, leaving families scrambling to find care. 

“I just want the community to know that we’re advocating for family rights to choose where they want to go and advocating for families to know that the appropriate amount of support can be given in each centre,” she said. 

Angle said she hasn’t been told what staff salaries will look like under the new system, or if they will be able to stay at the centre where they currently work.

“I want my staff to know that I’m fighting to make sure that their seniority is held in my business, that they get vacations that they deserve, that they get the support they need every day, to make sure that their jobs are secured.”

In a news conference on Friday, Premier Tim Houston said, “This is a historic change. Every time you make a historic change, there are ramifications.” 

“I don’t want to be a ramification of change,” Angle said.  

“I want to be an advocate for change and advocate for positivity, but I’m not a ramification. I’m an individual with a family. I employ amazing educators who have been unsure of what their future holds.”

“We are unified”

Lisa Beddow, the owner of Friends for Life, which holds 420 child-care spaces and 80 employees in six locations across the province, said she’s leading Nova Scotia’s 194 private operators in advocating for a better deal. 

The group has been communicating with government bodies since Friday’s announcement. 

“I want the premier to sign an amendment to include private operators as part of the (Canada-wide agreement),” Beddow said. 

Under Alberta’s and New Brunswick’s agreements with the federal government signed in the fall, for-profit centres still qualify for funding. Ontario has not signed on to the Canada-wide system yet.

She said private operators, most of whom are women, who have put “the blood, sweat and tears” into their businesses could see their efforts “washed away.”

The Department of Education and Early Childhood Development did not respond to requests for comment in time for publication. 

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  1. A

    Anthony P.

    By right the primary educators of children are, or should be, the parents. Yes, it is the right of children to develop intimate and life-giving relationships with those who gave them life, with their biological parents. Childcare, including pre-school child care, has been the last portion of children's education, the control of which has not yet been usurped by government, where parents had at least some choice, who they entrust their children too. Now this is gone. The ultimatum has been given. Parents have to submit their children a centralized (ideologically and educationally) national governmental system, or suffer the financial consequences. It was to be expected the the "generous" government childcare subsidy comes at a cost. And yes, what a formidable hook it is.
  2. m


    so the issue is they are losing their government subsidy? Seeing as they weren't profitable without a subsidy is it fair to call these private businesses? This sounds less like it is about kids and choices and more about who benefits from public dollars. Should it be the few that won the subsidy lottery or should it be the public? Seems straightforward to me.
  3. T

    T. Ulrich

    These centres are essential for preschoolers.. Early development begins with these entrepreneurs preparing our young children for school.. It would be a pity to loose these kids in a government run classroom.. Play fair Tim Hustin
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