Alberta’s daycare nightmare

Fewer spaces means fewer women working in labour-strapped province
By Shannon Klie
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 09/21/2006

Alberta is in the middle of a labour shortage, one that’s only going to get worse as more people retire. But instead of taking advantage of the skyrocketing wages, more Alberta women are staying home, according to a Statistics Canada report.

Job participation for women in Alberta dropped three percentage points from 67.9 per cent in 1999 to 64.9 per cent in 2005. One of the reasons for this decline was a corresponding drop in the number of supervised daycare spaces, said Francine Roy, a senior analyst at Statistics Canada and author of the report

From She to She: Changing Patterns of Women in the Canadian Labour Force

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“It’s tough to work if you have nobody to take care of your children,” she said.

While the number of daycare spaces increased by an average of 100 per cent across the country from 1992 to 2004, the number of spaces actually decreased in Alberta by 7.2 per cent, resulting in less than 48,000 spaces for 163,400 mothers of children under six.

Women could help alleviate the province’s shortage, but only if child-care services are available to them, said Roy.

As such, the federal government’s initiative to create 25,000 new national child-care spaces each year is especially important to Alberta. Last month, the province sent 900 surveys to business groups, employers and child-care operators and held focus groups across the province to find out what would work best for Alberta.

While the full analysis of the 575 responses the government received hasn’t been completed, Jody Korchinski, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Children’s Services, was able to draw some early conclusions.

“It’s not a bricks and mortar issue,” she said. “It’s not just putting up a new building and the problem is solved. The issue does come down to people. Many daycares have spaces that they’re licensed for but just can’t staff. They would be able to have more spaces if they were just able to attract and retain more workers.”

That’s one reason the federal government’s proposal to offer one-time tax credits or grants to businesses that build child-care spaces in the community won’t necessarily work, said Monica Lysack, the executive director of the Ottawa-based Childcare Advocacy Association of Canada.

“Even if employers were willing to pick this up, with this capital grant, they could maybe build a nice building and put some nice toys in it, but the actual costs of operating the child-care centre are not available from any other source except parents themselves or the provinces.”

Alberta’s wage top-up for daycare workers received positive feedback in the survey. The added wages help daycares attract and retain quality staff, said Korchinski.

“Just given the state of Alberta’s economy, every sector and organization is trying desperately to attract staff to work in their businesses. The daycare industry is no exception.”

Initially the federal government proposed financial support for businesses that created daycares on-site for employees. But that presents another problem because most businesses aren’t in the business of child care, said Lysack.

“Child care is expensive and complicated and there are all these regulations you have to meet,” she said. “It’s messy for employers.”

While most businesses wouldn’t turn down such a grant or tax credit, it wouldn’t be the main motivator to build an on-site daycare, said Ken Kobly, CEO of the Alberta Chambers of Commerce.

“I think employers will do whatever they need to do in order to attract and retain staff and one of those things may in fact be providing child-care services themselves,” he said. “I don’t see a business rushing out and creating child-care spaces simply because the government’s going to give them a one-time grant.”

Also, many people who need child care don’t work for large corporations that can afford to build and run on-site daycares. The Alberta survey found the majority of the need for good, affordable care is in northern, Aboriginal and remote communities, said Korchinski.

In some of these communities, creating a daycare might not be the answer because there won’t ever be the population base to support a daycare, she said. That’s one reason the province instituted the kin child-care program where families receive a subsidy to pay a relative to look after a child.

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