Ottawa rejects N.S. plea to extend daycare expansion funds to private operators

Becky Druhan is Nova Scotia's minister of education and early childhood development. (Patrick Callaghan/CBC - image credit)
Becky Druhan is Nova Scotia's minister of education and early childhood development. (Patrick Callaghan/CBC - image credit)

Nova Scotia will have to come up with another way to help private daycare operators expand now that the federal government has refused to change a deal the previous Liberal government signed with Ottawa three years ago.

Becky Druhan, the province's education and early childhood development minister, said she has been unable to convince federal counterpart Jenna Sudds, the minister of families, children and social development, to allow private daycare operators to tap into the $605-million daycare fund. The two met on Thursday.

"She indicated that the federal government has no appetite to renegotiate the agreement," Druhan said during a video call from her office. "It's not the news we were looking for but it does provide some clarity."

She said now that the federal position is clear "the team is considering what our … options are."

Druhan would not say what those options might be.

Minister claimed N.S. 'at a disadvantage'

In a letter she sent the federal minister last February, Druhan noted that other provinces — Alberta, Ontario and New Brunswick — had the flexibility to allow "some level of private sector expansion."

The letter went on to say Nova Scotia was "at a disadvantage" compared to those provinces.

Private operators make up about 55 per cent of the province's daycare sector. Non-profits are the other 45 per cent.

On Thursday, the provincial government announced the creation of an infrastructure program that will provide $25 million "to fund new construction or major renovations that will create new child-care spaces."

Earlier this week, the provincial government celebrated the first child-care centre approved for the provincial government's new minor infrastructure program.

Private daycare operators are not eligible for either program because the money is coming from the deal the province signed with Ottawa.

No surprise, says operator

Lisa Beddow, who owns eight daycare centres in the Halifax area, Enfield and Truro, said she wasn't surprised by Ottawa's reluctance to change the deal.

"Their mandate is specific to the creation of non-profit spaces," wrote Beddow in an email to CBC News. "However, our provincial government could allow private operators to expand without using taxpayer dollars, if the private operator has the means to do so."

That's a reference to the fact that operators who want provincial subsidies to reduce fees to parents, and increase the salaries of their employees, must have the province's blessing to expand. Right now, Nova Scotia is focused on using the federal fund to create a total of 9,500 new daycare spaces by March 2026.

Liberal Leader Zach Churchill said the province needed to develop a plan to allow private operators to expand.

"The province should step up, figure out how they're going to allow the private centres to expand, and support them to do that in a way that's going to be fair with the not-for-profit sector," he said.

Beddow was at Province House in 2022 to warn the province that its deal with Ottawa would be disastrous for the private sector.