Fri. Feb 23rd, 2024

Daycares: Québec has « chosen to subsidize the profit »

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The government has initiated the conversion of unsubsidized daycares, but the vast majority into subsidized daycares, and not centers of early childhood. (Archive photo)

  • David Rémillard (View profile)David Rémillard

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Early childhood centers (CPE) fear becoming only a minority link in the educational childcare network if Quebec does not further promote the conversion of unsubsidized daycares into CPEs. Of the 8,800 places converted since 2021 or in the process of being converted, barely 200 are reserved for CPE.

The Legault government had committed, just before the 2022 election campaign, to converting the vast majority of unsubsidized daycares in the province to the subsidized network.

The objective is to provide better access to places at the universal rate of $8.70 for parents sometimes forced to pay up to $70 per day per child, or even more, in unsubsidized daycare, due to lack of alternative.

The initiative aims to convert some 56,500 of the 65,000 existing places in the unsubsidized network by 2027. The cost of the operation was estimated at $1.4 billion over 5 years at the time. of the announcement.

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The former Minister of Families, Mathieu Lacombe, laid the foundations of the project to convert unsubsidized daycares. (File photo)

Before this commitment, the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) launched, in 2020, a pilot project for the conversion of 3,500 unsubsidized places. All of the places selected (3,549) were converted into subsidized private daycares.

Based on the results of this pilot project, the government subsequently launched , last June, a call for projects for the conversion of 5,000 other unsubsidized places, a first step towards fulfilling its electoral promise. Once again, the 5,054 places selected will become, by March, places in subsidized daycare centers, and not in CPE.

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In total since 2021, the government has converted or authorized the conversion of 8,603 unsubsidized places into subsidized places.

According to the Quebec Association of Early Childhood Centers (AQCPE), the former Minister of Families, Mathieu Lacombe, intended to leave the choice to the owners selected in the calls for projects to convert to subsidized daycare or CPE.

That’s not how it happened, deplores Marie-Claude Lemieux, director of public and government affairs at AQCPE. We realize that there is more and more discontent within unsubsidized daycare centers because the promise has not been honored.

As with the 2020 pilot project, the 2022 call for projects did not offer the latitude hoped for by some owners. When they presented the budget in March [last] for the transformation of 5,000 places into subsidized daycare centers, there was no question of transforming them into CPE.

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Marie-Claude Lemieux deplores the government's choice.

According to Ms. Lemieux, the government has not provided the necessary sums to move forward with CPE conversions, preferring to turn exclusively to the subsidized daycare model. The government imagined that unsubsidized daycare centers would not want to become non-profit organizations.

Unlike subsidized daycare centers, private companies, CPEs must reinvest the profits from their activities in services for children, since they are constituted as NPOs. In several cases, the government also owns the building where a CPE is located.

The subsidy for the operating budget of a subsidized daycare or a CPE is the same, explains Ms. Lemieux. What is different is that the government invests in real estate. These additional investments mean that this type of conversion can prove more expensive initially, admits Marie-Claude Lemieux.

The AQCPE believes that the government has taken the wrong path by largely favoring conversions to subsidized daycares. Unfortunately, we fear that we will no longer be able to talk about a network of CPEs, because the CPEs will be in the minority in terms of the number of places.

The association recalls that Quebec has data in hand which nevertheless demonstrates an interest of unsubsidized daycare centers in becoming CPE.

A survey conducted in 2022 by the Ministry of Families among 51 owners of unsubsidized daycare centers who participated in the conversion pilot project showed that nearly a third of permit holders would have preferred to be converted into a CPE rather than a subsidized daycares if they had had the choice.

In the context, the AQCPE denounces the trajectory taken by the CAQ.

We question the government's choice to continue to want to subsidize the profits of these daycares -there, which generate much less quality.

A quote from Marie-Claude Lemieux, director of public and government affairs, AQCPE

On quality, Ms. Lemieux once again bases her argument on data from of the ministry itself.

In a ministerial publication published in spring 2023, it was reported that 89% of CPEs reached all the quality thresholds set by the ministry since 2019, compared to 64% and 53% respectively for subsidized daycares and unsubsidized daycares.

The reason why CPEs generate more quality is that the objectives of a CPE, this is not the case. is not about making profits, insists Marie-Claude Lemieux.

The AQCPE put pressure on Minister Suzanne Roy. We told them that it was necessary to respect the desire of unsubsidized daycare centers to become CPEs. We hope that faced with the situation, the government will adjust its approach.

As a consolation, Quebec launched a project last year pilot to convert 200 unsubsidized places into early childhood centers.

Even if the government did not have the budget, we presented them with avenues to finance the conversion into CPE, and despite all that, we only had 200 places in a pilot project, continues Marie-Claude Lemieux. The latter despite all hope towards Minister Roy for the future, clinging to the political will embodied by the pilot project.

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Quebec Minister of Families, Suzanne Roy (Archive photo)

In the minister's office, we assure you that the conversion of 200 places is only the beginning. This is the intention [to convert other places into CPE]. However, we will wait for the results of the pilot project, it is said.

As for the survey demonstrating the desire of certain unsubsidized daycare centers to become CPEs, the government says it took it into account in preparing its plot project. No further details were given for the future.

The selected projects must be announced by the minister in the coming weeks.

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