The Houston government is offering daycare operators across Nova Scotia a total of $100 million more a year to beef up the salaries of early childhood educators, but advocates who came to Province House Friday say it's not enough.
Daycare owner Lisa Beddow told reporters more money is needed to offset rising costs and pay staff an adequate wage. Without it, private operations like hers will be forced to close.
"We have done a poll with our private operators and [nearly] 25 per cent [are] looking to close within the next 12 months," said Beddow, who owns six daycares in the Truro, East Hants and Halifax region.
"We hold 60 per cent of the spaces in our province, and we do meet quite regularly, and I can say with certainty we're a unified group," she said. "[We] do believe that this is going to end in a disaster, a complete crisis in our province without the private operators."
Struggles in sector
The message was just as pointed from the co-ordinator of Child Care Now Nova Scotia, Nikki Jamieson. Her group is a provincial chapter of Canada's national child care advocacy coalition, which supports a publicly funded, non-profit child care system.
"Everybody in the sector is struggling," said Jamieson. "The sector has been in crisis for a number of years, as we know, and this rollout has been complex and messy."
The federal government and Nova's Scotia's previous Liberal government signed a $605-million agreement in 2021 aimed at halving child-care costs in the province by the end of 2022 and reaching an average $10 a day by 2026. Another goal of the deal is to boost the wages of those working in the sector.
The current Progressive Conservative government is now trying to implement the program across the child-care sector.
Jamieson said private daycare centres aren't the only ones closing due to staff shortages and that those shutdowns would continue as long as workers can find better paying jobs elsewhere.
"We're having a major staffing crisis in this province and the fact that this province promised a minimum living wage and failed to deliver on that promise should be top of mind," said Jamieson. "[Early childhood educators] are struggling to afford basic necessities."
"They're having to choose between food and shelter."
Minister gives Nov. 14 deadline
But the cabinet minister responsible for the file, Education and Early Childhood Development Minister Becky Druhan, said those views aren't shared by all for-profit operators.
"The group doesn't represent all of the private operators," Druhan told reporters outside the legislative chamber.
"We've heard from many, many private operators, that they do trust us, that they are working with us and that they are grateful and thankful for the work that we're doing."
Druhan has given all daycare operators until Nov. 14 to sign onto the deal to get the extra money for early childhood educators (ECEs) salaries. But that deadline is also a bone of contention with the private operators who were at the legislature.
"We really don't have enough time to consult with our accountants and lawyers on the legalities within the agreement," said Beddow. Without that clarity, she said, operators cannot know if the offer is rich enough to sustain their businesses.
Druhan defended the deadline.
"We wanted to make sure that this money was flowed to our ECEs so they could have it quickly and that allows us to get money into the ECEs hands really quickly," she said.
Druhan said the extra $100 million a year will increase ECE wages between 14 and 43 per cent.
According to the department's website, depending on years of experience and qualifications, early childhood educators who earn the minimum allowable now — between $15 and $19 an hour — will see their wages increase to between $19.10 and $24.39 an hour this year.
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