Cities in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Newfoundland and Labrador are leading the country on offering $10-a-day child-care services, but the availability of spaces remains an obstacle, says a new survey.
The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and Martha Friendly, director of the Childcare Resource and Research Unit, published the “Measuring Matters” survey Thursday. It’s the first survey from the centre to assess fees paid by parents nationwide since the federal government’s new child-care policy took effect.
“Overall, the findings related to child-care fees by city and age group show that Canada is making solid progress in offering more affordable child care,” the report said.
Researchers surveyed child-care centres in 37 cities across the country — five cities in Quebec (which already had child-care fees below $10 a day) and 32 cities in provinces and territories that joined the federal child-care program.
It found that in 18 of the 32 cities, median child care fees had been reduced by more than half. Another eight to 10 cities saw fees drop by 40 to 47 per cent, depending on the level of care.
In April 2021, the federal government offered provinces and territories roughly $30 billion over five years to help them offset the costs of a national early learning and child-care program.
The goal was to cut the cost of child care in half in the first year and then bring daily fees down to $10 a day per child by 2026. The plan also calls for creating 250,000 new child-care spots by 2026.
In June, the federal government told provinces and territories how much of $625 million in infrastructure funding they would be getting to create those spaces.
Fees remain high in Alberta, Ontario, B.C.
The Measuring Matters survey has been conducted every year since 2014. This is the first to assess the impact of the new child-care policy on fees.
Researchers conducting the survey made about 11,000 calls to child-care centres across the country to track the median fees in those cities for infants, toddlers and preschool-aged children.
The survey classifies children under 18 months or two years of age as infants, children 18 months to three years of age as toddlers, and children aged three to five who are not yet in kindergarten as preschoolers.
The report found that in Newfoundland and Labrador, fees fell to $10 for all three categories of children by the end of 2022, well before the 2026 target date. Saskatchewan also hit the benchmark in 2022, while Manitoba hit it earlier this year.
Nunavut also hit the $10-a-day target in 2022, bringing median fees in Iqaluit down to just $217 per month in all three categories in 2023. That’s a drop of 82 per cent for toddlers and preschoolers, and of 83 per cent for infant care.
Median child care fees in Quebec actually went up over the survey period. The province already had its own child-care program limiting fees to $8.25 a day when Ottawa introduced its program. Even with the 7.3 per cent increase in fees, which brings them up to $8.85, child care in Quebec is still the least expensive in Canada.
While not all provinces met the $10 a day benchmark or cut fees by 50 per cent, all provinces and territories managed to reduce fees for child care significantly, the report said.
Alberta managed to cut fees by between 45 to 48 per cent, depending on the level of care.
In Calgary, Edmonton and Lethbridge, the only three cities in Alberta that were surveyed, fees dropped by 24 to 48 per cent, depending on the location and level of care.
Median child-care fees for toddlers in Calgary dropped from $1,100 during the survey period to $838 a month. That was still the second-highest level recorded in any city in Canada, after Richmond B.C. ($905 a month) and ahead of Toronto ($725 a month).
Calgary recorded the highest costs in the country for preschoolers, at $810 a month (down from $1,075), followed closely by Richmond B.C. at $800 a month.
For infants, child-care fees in Calgary dropped by 40 per cent to $780 a month, and by as much as 48 per cent in Edmonton, bringing the median price down to $555 a month from $1,075.
Infant care was most expensive in Richmond B.C. and Toronto, at just over $900 a month. Markham came in third at $818 per month.
Spaces remain an issue
The report says that if no new spaces are created, the reduced fees will simply increase the number of people on waiting lists for child care spaces — and the national child-care program will have failed.
To determine capacity in the system, researchers asked child-care centres if they had space to accept a new child “in the next week.”
“Of the 30 cities with data, half (14) had little to no spare capacity for an additional preschool-aged child,” the report said. “For infants and toddlers, little or no spare capacity was reported in 22 of the 30 cities.”
The report said that even in Edmonton and the Ontario cities of Richmond Hill, Windsor and Vaughn, the four municipalities with the most access to unused capacity, only one third of child-care centres contacted said they could enrol a full-time child within a week.
The report’s authors said that all provincial and territorial governments should follow the examples of Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Newfoundland, P.E.I., New Brunswick, B.C. and Nunavut by cutting net fees to a maximum of $10 a day.
The report also asks governments to develop strategies to increase the number of child care spaces and boost wages for child-care workers.
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