N.S. fails to meet pledge of adding 1,500 new daycare spaces by end of 2022
HALIFAX — Nova Scotia has failed to meet its self-imposed target of creating 1,500 new daycare spots by the end of 2022, instead adding 400 licensed child-care spaces.
The government blames supply chain and labour pressure for the delay, adding that the remaining 1,100 promised spots would be added to the network this year. The province says the 400 places were created between July 2021 and Dec. 31, 2022.
In June of 2022, Education Minister Becky Druhan said the province would open 1,500 new daycare spots by the end of the year, funded in part by a $605-million daycare agreement between the province and the federal government.
Some daycare operators say they're not surprised that the province failed to meet its self-imposed target.
“I predicted that they wouldn’t be able to hit it,” Bonnie Minard, executive director of the Portland Daycare Centre in Dartmouth, said in a recent interview.
Under regulations that are tied to the federal daycare agreement, private licensed daycare centres like hers are unable to open new spaces for children, she said. The province said in June 2021 that the 1,500 new spaces would be created in not-for-profit centres or with home-care providers.
“No private operator can create a new spot, and I know several that would look to expand because the demand is just huge," Minard said. "We have people who call begging for spots and we can’t accommodate them."
Jodi Tsitouras, executive director of Magic Beings Child Care Centre in Halifax, said she has the staff and the space to immediately add seven daycare spots at her centre, but she said she isn’t allowed to.
“It’s frustrating; our hands are tied,” Tsitouras said in an interview Tuesday.
Barbara Ferguson, a spokesperson for the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, said in an email, "the department must prioritize space expansion in the not-for-profit sector. At this time, that is our focus."
In addition to the 400 new licensed daycare places that were added between July 2021 and Dec. 31, 2022, Ferguson said the province also created 600 new before- and after-school spots, funded through the agreement with Ottawa.
NDP education spokesperson Suzy Hansen said she’s disappointed in the province’s progress toward meeting its child-care goal.
“It’s just not good enough," Hansen said in a recent interview. "I mean, why make a promise of 1,500 if you're not even close to that number?" She said she has heard from constituents who are trying to get back into the workforce and struggling to access child care.
Nova Scotia Liberal Leader Zach Churchill said in a recent interview that the government's failure to significantly increase daycare spots is a "big problem for our economy."
"In order for parents to work, particularly single parents, they need to have access to child-care spaces," Churchill said.
He said residents have told him that the lack of available child care is challenging the province's efforts to recruit medical professionals.
"This is a big issue for doctor recruitment," Churchill said. "They're having a hard time finding a place to live, and if they find a place they're having a hard time finding child care for their kids, which means they can't practise."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 7, 2023.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Lyndsay Armstrong, The Canadian Press