Alberta accuses Ottawa of delaying private child care expansion

« The deal has increased waiting lists because it has increased demand, » said a private operator.

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Alberta Premier Danielle Smith’s government has blamed Ottawa for delaying the expansion of federal child care funding as the province’s private operators push for a better deal.

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A $3.8 billion federal agreement announced last November aims to cut average fees in half by the end of this year and to $10 a day by 2026. The plan is to eventually create 42,500 new places, but sector business owners say it has stifled them by limiting their ability to grow in line with growing demand.

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Between November 1, 2021 and March 31, approximately 2,700 new private sector child care spaces were created in Alberta, along with more than 1,800 new non-profit spaces, with the province committing to create a total of 10 000 new non-profit spaces. seats this year.

Andrea Farmer, spokeswoman for Affordability and Public Services Minister Matt Jones, said federal delays are to blame for the growing shortage of space.

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As a former children’s services minister, Jones continues to work on the deal as an affordability issue and will seek envelope funding similar to Quebec’s, Farmer said..

“To date, the federal government has been rigid and unwilling to approve the required cost control framework that would unlock expansion and increased private operator participation in (the deal),” Farmer said in a statement to Postmedia this week.

To unlock funds for newly authorized private programs under the agreement, both governments must approve a for-profit expansion plan and a cost control framework that would limit federal spending.

A senior official in the office of federal Families, Children and Social Development Minister Karina Gould, who was not authorized to speak officially, told Postmedia Alberta that she has yet to come up with a serious plan. detailed enough for that to happen.

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Alberta and Ontario are the only two out of 10 provinces and three territories to include this kind of cost containment and for-profit expansion framework in their agreements.

« They penalize families »: Operator

The Alberta Association of Childcare Entrepreneurs, with nearly 400 members, represents the interests of private operators, who operate approximately 67% of child care spaces in the province.

Association president Krystal Churcher owns the Early Start Learning Center in Fort McMurray, but scrapped plans to open a second center because she said the funding deal was too risky.

Churcher told Postmedia in an interview this week that private operators support affordable child care and choices for families, but they fear restrictions on how they spend subsidies will lead to reduced child care. quality and additional costs.

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While the expansion plan is still in the making, expansion efforts by many private operators have been thwarted, and the terms of the deal are hurting the viability and value of their businesses, according to Churcher.

“The deal has increased waiting lists because it has increased demand,” Churcher said, adding that the allocation of 2,700 new places was quickly clawed back, leaving many private operators, including herself, no luck.

Additionally, the funding structure creates a two-tier system in which some families and spaces are not eligible for funding, she said, and some workers are not eligible for wage top-ups, making it more difficult to hire. .

“They penalize families.

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While the association doesn’t want to see a framework at all, Churcher said if members are bound by it, they want a seat at the negotiating table and clarity in its terms.

Mila Roy, spokesperson for the Gould ministry, said in a statement to Postmedia this week that the purpose of the framework and expansion plan is « to ensure the sound and reasonable use of public funds and to ensure that that the costs and revenues of child care businesses are reasonable and that excess revenues beyond reasonable revenues are allocated to improving child care services.

Smith « demands » the same treatment as Quebec

Earlier this week, in a Twitter thread, Smith said his government would not walk away from the childcare deal, but criticized the model for deterring private investment in new spaces and causing a shortage. .

Smith said she wants to see a fairer deal for private daycare operators.

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The premier also said Alberta would “demand” the same flexibility in implementing the deal that Quebec has, echoing former premier Jason Kenney, who said last November that the Alberta would have preferred unconditional money, similar to what Quebec received.

At the time, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responded by noting that Quebec already had $8.50-a-day child care.

“It’s not about treating a province differently. If Alberta already had $8-a-day child care across the province, we would have had a similar approach to Quebec,” he said.

Almost a year later, the fees have gone down

Nearly a year after the deal was announced, and after new grants and subsidies were rolled out in January, average child care costs in Alberta have dropped significantly.

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The province said last March the average cost to parents for licensed child care for children up to kindergarten age was reduced to $17.35 a day, or about $377.27 per month.

That would represent a 48% drop from March 2021, when the average was $33.06 per day, or $719.15 per month – although the 2021 figures do not include preschool program fees.

In September, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) wrote a letter to Gould expressing concerns similar to those of the Alberta association, noting that some businesses have sat empty for nearly a year awaiting expansion.

“As part of the new cost control framework, we recommend that the government provide the same allocation of spaces to all licensed non-profit and private child care centres,” the letter said.

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