How to Solve Saskatchewan’s Child Care Problems

Commentary, Education, Peter Shawn Taylor

In his 2009 Budget, Premier Brad Wall promised to create 1,000 new daycare spaces. With this ambitious goal in mind, daycare entrepreneur Hind Rami seems like just the sort of person to make it happen. So why does Rami think she made a big mistake moving to Saskatchewan?

Two years ago, Rami moved with her family from British Columbia to Indian Head, about 70 kms east of Regina. After working for six years in daycares in Vancouver, she planned to open her own in under-serviced Saskatchewan. Saskatchewan has the lowest level of child care provision in the entire country.

But when she arrived in the province, Rami was stunned to learn the Wall government actively discourages commercial daycare. Parents whose children attend her daycare cannot receive any monthly subsidies from the province. These subsidies, worth up to $570 per month, are widely available to parents using non-profit centres across the province. Rami is also ineligible for a wide variety of other provincial subsidies and grants that non-profit centres receive to improve their facilities or open new spaces.

Despite this unfair treatment, Rami persisted with her dream, opening Little Castle Bilingual Daycare in October 2008. Parents in Indian Head were certainly grateful. Rami is now operating the only licensed child care centre in town. The nearest licensed, non-profit centre is 45 km away in Fort Qu’Appelle.

Less than a year after opening, Rami’s services have proven so popular she’s planning an expansion, possibly adding another 15 spots to her original 22. Her waiting list alone should guarantee these new spaces are filled the moment they’re open. You might think this kind of effort would have changed the government’s mind about discriminating against for-profit centres. Not so.

Despite her commitment to bring quality, licensed child care to Indian Head – and at the same time fulfilling the Premier’s own daycare objectives – Rami continues to be denied access to any subsidies, which means parents using her services have to pay more than parents at other centres.

This kind of official animosity has Rami questioning her own persistence in running a daycare in Saskatchewan. “I ask myself all the time, ‘am I in the right province?’ It was not like this in Vancouver.” She adds: “I think about leaving. But for now, I am here.”

It seems obvious that discriminating against eager for-profit daycare operators such as Rami is proving to be a big policy mistake. Saskatchewan is the only province in Canada to discourage for-profit daycares to the point of extinction; Rami operates the only commercial centre in the entire province. Remember, Saskatchewan has the lowest level of child care coverage in Canada.

Evidence from other provinces proves commercial child care is a crucial factor in improving access while reducing the burden on taxpayers. Entrepreneurial operators such as Rami are much quicker to open new spaces than charitable non-profit groups. And provinces that welcome for-profit centres are able to open new licensed child care spaces at a lower total cost to taxpayers than provinces that discriminate.

Alberta has been able to roll out a stunning 6,500 new spaces in just one year by providing subsidies and grants equally to both for-profit and non-profit facilities.

There is no good reason for the Wall government to maintain its discriminatory child care policy. Both for-profit and non-profit centres must meet exactly the same licensing, staffing and quality requirements. And most parents could care less about the ownership status of their daycare. What matters to them are the features they can see: cleanliness, cheerful and attentive staff, convenience and, most importantly, contended children.

If Wall is serious about meeting his 1,000 space target, he should drop the old NDP policy and embrace willing entrepreneurial child care operators such as Rami. The Premier’s ambitious plans to draw new families into Saskatchewan will not be helped by a continuing shortage of daycare services.

Unless the current policy is changed, Rami and other child care professionals like her will simply set up shop in other, more welcoming, provinces. Saskatchewan will continue to face a deficit of child care spaces. And the parents of Indian Head will once again have to drive to Fort Qu’Appelle to find licensed daycare.