Child Care Can’t be Transformed Like This: Child Care Now Nova Scotia Calls on the Federal and Provincial Governments to Invest More

Yesterday, the federal government announced the Early Learning and Child Care Infrastructure Fund, with $625 million in capital investment in child care over four years. Prime Minister Trudeau explained that the funding is to “help early learning and child care providers renovate, retrofit, and build new not-for-profit and public child care facilities.” The federal government has committed to creating 250,000 new spaces by April 2026, and claims 52,000 have already been created (though their definition of “new spaces” is unclear); this means that, if we take the federal government at its word, an additional 198,000 spaces are needed to meet this target. Child Care Now estimates that $10 billion is necessary to create these 250,000 spaces promised by the federal government–a far cry from the infrastructure funding offered in this new Fund.

These targets aside, we should never talk about child care spaces without talking about the ECEs who provide care and early learning to the children who occupy them. Additional capital funding in infrastructure, and core funding support for ECE compensation, are necessary to improve child care access for families nationwide meaningfully. 

Given that the federal funding provided to Nova Scotia as part of its bilateral funding agreement (that is, the Canada-Nova Scotia Canada-Wide Early Learning and Child Care Agreement) is $605 million in total, its portion of the new Early Learning and Child Care Infrastructure Fund will likely be meagre. That said, funding for child care expansion across Nova Scotia is particularly dire. 

As highlighted in this Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives report released last month, nearly half (47%) of the children in Nova Scotia not yet attending pre-primary live in a child care desert, a region where the number of child care spaces is disproportionate to the number of children who live there. Spaces are even more sparse in Nova Scotia’s many rural areas, where 61% of children live in child care deserts. 

As far as child care advocates are aware, the government will fall short of their space creation targets again this year. Without making their Progress Report publicly available, it is unclear whether Nova Scotia’s targets were met in fiscal year 2022-23. Transparency is critical to ensuring the government is held accountable to the promises set out in its bilateral agreement.

According to this Freedom of Information request, 144 of the spaces were lost in the Central region since the current Liberal government was elected–this includes Halifax Regional Municipality, where most of the children in the province reside and where about one-third of families cannot access a child care space. As only 37 spaces were created in that time frame in HRM, that means there are 32 fewer child care spaces, in addition to the spaces in the two child care centres lost in the recent wildfires last month.

Federal funding for infrastructure is critically needed in Nova Scotia to create additional spaces and expand child care access into rural and remote communities. Nova Scotia’s small slice of the $625 million federal funding alone will not accomplish these aims. Building a public, not-for-profit Canada-wide system requires substantial investments from federal and provincial and territorial governments, and close collaboration, not just across governments but with the early learning and child care community–educators and providers, as well as parents and policy experts. 

The negotiations that will take place to distribute the Early Learning and Child Care Infrastructure Fund to provinces and territories present an opportunity for Nova Scotia to develop a comprehensive expansion plan for the province. Critically, this plan must include ensuring the recruitment and retention of enough ECEs to support this expansion. 

The wages outlined in Nova Scotia’s wage grid are insufficient to attract enough new ECEs to the sector to support expansion of child care into Nova Scotia’s child care deserts, and to the families who need it across the province. Nor does it address the years of pay inequities faced by ECEs in the sector. The Province has yet to offer any benefits package. Providing ECEs a defined benefits pension plan is critical to ensure ECEs do not retire into poverty. 

We cannot afford to lose any ECEs, nor any more spaces–these issues go hand-in-hand in the creation of a strong system of child care in Nova Scotia. It is not too late for the province to revise its wage grid, recognize the value, education, training and experience of ECEs, and compensate them accordingly.

The delivery of this expansion plan should be overseen by the central public agency Nova Scotia committed to creating in its bilateral agreement, but has yet to follow through. This agency should draw from community input and collaboration with the early learning and child care workforce–including, critically, the ECEs who will staff these new spaces.

Though expansion is a critical component of building a nation-wide system of early learning and child care, the Early Learning and Child Care Infrastructure Fund is only a drop in the bucket. It is insufficient to deliver the kind of child care transformation the Canada-wide Early Learning and Child Care Plan has promised nationwide. 

Child Care Now Nova Scotia calls on both the federal and provincial governments to invest more in the expansion of child care across Nova Scotia, and, critically, in the ECEs working on the ground to offer high-quality care to children across the province.