Child Care Now Nova Scotia gave provincial government officials its recommendations for building a provincial system of early learning and child care in a recent consultation of stakeholders just as negotiations between the province and the Government of Canada get underway to decide how the federal government’s new infusion of child care funds will be spent.

Christine Saulnier, member of the steering committee of Child Care Now NS, explained that the new group’s main message to government is that early learning and child care in Nova Scotia needs a complete overhaul in the way it is funded, delivered and managed.

“Our recommendations outline how the system should be rolled out to ensure that access to current and new child care spaces are universally accessible and affordable while at the same time raising the quality of programs and making them more inclusive and culturally-safe,” Saulnier said.

Michelle Lohnes, also a member of the steering committee with 27 years of experience as an early childhood educator, told the government officials that the working conditions for the female-dominated early childhood education workforce are key to children’s learning conditions. 

“The wages and compensation package must be competitive to fix the big problems of retention of qualified staff, and it must include paid sick leave, paid professional development, health benefits, and pension benefits,” Lohnes said. “The compensation package must match the training, experience and actual value of what ECEs contribute, and address the ongoing systemic and sexist undervaluing of care work in our society.”

Laura Fisher, a single mother of two children and also a member of Child Care Now Nova Scotia, said she was glad the new provincial advocacy group had the chance to provide input on the issue of parent fees.

“We recommend that $10 a day be the maximum that any family pays and that it be free to families who live with low-income,” Fisher said.

“I have personally experienced the bureaucratic hoops and challenges accessing the current parent subsidy program. The government needs to move away from all the patchwork of programs, grants and subsidies. There needs to be a fundamental shift to a system that is fully publicly funded and not based on a person’s ability to pay or whether you work or go to school. Universal access means everyone who wants it should get access, easily and without stigma,” Fisher said.

The recommendations put forward by Child Care Now Nova Scotia echo an open letter penned by Christine Saulnier and Tammy Finlay, Associate Professor and Department Chair of POlitical and Canadian Studies at Mount Saint Vincent University, published by the Nova Scotia office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.