Child Care Now Nova Scotia’s Statement on the Bilateral Early Learning and Child Care Agreement

The Bilateral Agreement signed by  Nova Scotia  and the Government of Canada has the potential to transform the way we view, manage, and deliver Early Learning and Child Care (ELCC) in Nova Scotia. The Multilateral Early Learning and Child Care framework being proposed aligns with the evidence on how best to build this system to achieve the vision in the Agreement, “the vision that all families in Canada have access to high-quality, affordable, flexible and inclusive early learning and child care no matter where they live.” This vision is Child Care Now Nova Scotia’s vision as well. This Agreement includes the historic, unprecedented, investment of $605 million of federal revenue and $40 million of NS government revenue.

A close examination of the Agreement reveals why we applaud this plan, though not uncritically. Here are some highlights.  

The Agreement has specific targets and timelines to address affordability, specifically: “providing a 50% reduction in average parent fees for provincially-funded, regulated ELCC programs and services (as described in section 2.2) by the end of 2022 and reaching an average of $10/day by fiscal year 2025 to 2026 for all provincially-funded, regulated child care spaces.” This will make a difference for the thousands of families currently accessing regulated child care. The Agreement also commits to “creating (9,500) more high-quality, affordable regulated child care spaces.” Families who are currently struggling to find affordable, accessible, will finally have more options.  

Nova Scotia is the first province committed “to develop a new provincial organization that will manage all regulated child care in the province.” The organization  will “be responsible for meeting mandated objectives as determined by the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (EECD).” The impact of this central structure will be a transformative piece of the equation as we begin building a universal child care system. The Agreement reinforces that, “provincial child care policies will be, child and family centred.” To ensure quality programs, they will focus  on supporting “trained and engaged early childhood educators, welcoming and inclusive spaces for all children”. They will also use a “provincially funded evidence-based quality assessment, which is “based on research regarding the importance of quality early childhood education experiences for children and informed by international practices to support quality improvements in regulated child care centres.” 

The Agreement clearly outlines an ambitious promise, “as Nova Scotia transforms the current early learning and child care system, we will be moving to a fully-not-for-profit model.” This means that: “all not-for-profit centres will be required to transition to the provincial organization by April 1, 2022.” Centres can choose to keep their respective boards or dissolve them. “If boards decide to dissolve, ECEs formerly working in not-for-profit centres will become employees of the organization and will deliver care to families using provincial family friendly policies, curriculum framework, parent fee structure, subsidy program and quality requirements as set out by the department.” The Agreement does not preclude profit, however, as it explains: “Providers may generate a profit, but the surplus earnings, or other resources, are directed towards improving child care services rather than distributed for the personal benefit of owners, members, investors or to enhance asset growth.” The agreement commits to “utilize $10 million of provincial funding to offer one-time “transition support” to for profit child care to become not-for-profit care.” This commitment is to exclusively fund non-profit expansion. Commercial for-profit service providers were informed that they can continue to be publicly funded for their current spaces provided they agree to operate in a way that is consistent with the province’s goal of creating a high quality, accessible, affordable and inclusive early learning and child care system. Child Care Now Nova Scotia applauds the move to a fully non-profit system, ensuring viable options for all current providers, and following what the research consistently shows us that no matter what markers are used to assess quality, not-for-profit child care outperforms for-profits. 

In the Agreement, “Nova Scotia commits to develop and fund a plan to ensure that new space creation ensures diverse and/or vulnerable children and families, including children with disabilities and children needing enhanced or individual supports, Indigenous children, Black and other racialized children, children of newcomers, and official language minorities, have spaces equivalent to or greater than their share of the population in the province.” Child Care Now Nova Scotia cautions that this commitment to inclusion must be reflected in the governance, management, and ongoing operations. Meaningful involvement of a diversity of groups representing these interests, respecting their expertise, and ensuring appropriate resources are allocated must also be prioritized. The Agreement also says that: “ECEs will receive compensation that is reflective of their education, training and years of experience in caring for and educating Nova Scotia’s youngest citizens.” This compensation risks coming too late. While some are concerned that plans are hastily moving forward, it is unconscionable that Early Childhood Educators, identified as, “the heart of the system,” will not see any change to their wages and benefits for seventeen additional months following the signing of the agreement. Nova Scotia was the second province to sign the agreement, and it was  recently announced that the government is ahead of target for reducing parent fees, which we applaud. Government must commit to providing adequate details around the workforce strategy and implement benefit and wage packages for educators immediately. 

Child Care Now Nova Scotia’s Commitment

Child Care Now Nova Scotia will continue to work towards ensuring that democratic participation, consultation, and meaningful and ongoing input are built central to not only the transition, but the system we are moving towards. We commit to holding the government to account for what the Agreement says: “Nova Scotia will consult with parents, child care providers, experts, Indigenous peoples, official language minority communities and other interested parties as an important step in developing and revising its Action Plan.”

With this we want to emphasize the strong language in the Agreement about the importance of communication.“7.1 Canada and Nova Scotia agree on the importance of communicating with citizens about the objectives of this Agreement in an open, transparent, effective and proactive manner through the appropriate public information activities.”

Thus far, we have not seen the NS government commit to their promise of open, transparent, effective and proactive communication. This has led to misconceptions and outright misinformation about what is being planned. It is critical that the NS government provide a comprehensive, detailed explanation of the plan, and the process for implementation. It must also open channels for ongoing evaluation and communication.

Nova Scotia has the opportunity to lead the way and make history with the transformational plan that’s being discussed. The plan is a major step toward treating Early Learning and Child Care as a public good, to guarantee access, inclusion and affordability, and to ensure that ECEs are fairly treated and compensated. 

Now we must work together to ensure that happens and that it is done right. 

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