More than a dozen child-care facilities across Alberta closed for the day Tuesday to protest against what operators say is an untenable financial deal being imposed on them by the provincial and federal governments.
Initiated by the Association of Alberta Childcare Entrepreneurs (AACE), a body representing some child-care centre operators in the province, the closures came in response to the latest phase of a federal-provincial agreement aimed at bringing child care costs down to $10 a day by 2026.
The association described the federal-provincial agreement as "underfunded" and "inflexible" and said it threatens the financial viability of operators by placing fee caps and other restrictions on child-care facilities as they struggle with increased operational costs.
The exact number of daycares participating in the protest closures is not clear.
In a news release sent Tuesday morning, the AACE listed 12 daycares that are closing as part of the action and claims "several dozens" in total are participating, but declined to provide a specific number, saying some operators don't want to be publicly identified.
CBC News has also confirmed there are some additional daycares that are not named on AACE's list that have also closed.
One of the child-care centres taking part in Tuesday's protest, Little Worlds Learning Centre in Deerfoot Meadows in Calgary, Alta., is pictured with notices posted to the building's exterior informing about the closure. (Mike Symington/CBC)
Krystal Churcher, the chair of the AACE, says that the association's membership consists of over 30,000 spaces for children, but CBC News has not been able to independently verify this.
In Alberta, government figures indicate that there are approximately 170,200 total licensed child-care spaces across the province. This includes "99,000 for-profit, 55,000 non-profit and 16,200 home-based spaces," reads a statement from the press secretary of the Ministry of Children and Family Services.
Since the conception of federal and provincial agreements, various steps of the process have been received with mixed feelings. It has left some daycare operators feeling frustrated, but some parents feeling relieved.
Louisa Owusu-Djan is assistant director of Bow Valley Child Care Centre in Calgary, one of the child-care centres participating in the protest and an AACE member. Her concern is the amount the government is providing in the affordability grant isn't enough to cover the costs of running the daycare.
She says the child-care centre sent an email to parents on Monday letting them know they would be closed on Tuesday and the email responses were mixed.
"Most of them were in support and are standing behind us and are happy. A few of them were upset, which is a given," she said. "Finding childcare is difficult."
Owusu-Djan has been an employee for about a decade, and she says the daycare looks after roughly 94 children, ranging from one to five years old.
A poster from the Association of Alberta Childcare Entrepreneurs (AACE) is seen on the exterior of Little Worlds Learning Centre in Deerfoot Meadows in Calgary, Alta., informing those about the closure. (Mike Symington/CBC)
Addressing Tuesday's closures, she said it's "unfortunate to have to be in this position," but wants child-care workers like herself to have their voices heard.
"It seems like they've just come up with an agreement that we have to sign and no one has a say in it."
Lisa Fletcher, owner of My Happy Place Daycare in Stony Plain, Alta., shares those concerns.
Fletcher is another AACE member that operates a child-care centre participating in Tuesday's protest.
"Right now, we are stuck between a rock and a hard place," she said, adding she feels child-care operators haven't been adequately consulted in decisions made by governments.
"Just being closed for the day has a huge impact. Imagine what would happen if daycare centres across the province started closing their doors because they're going bankrupt."
Fletcher says that while she understands this is inconvenient for parents, closing their doors in protest has been "a last resort," and hopes closures will help inform parents about how the agreement is impacting some child-care operators.
But not all child-care centre operators agree with Tuesday's action.
Brad West, executive director of Glengarry Childcare Society in Edmonton, said he's not one of AACE's members and doesn't see the benefit of closing daycare doors in protest.
"I had emails coming in from my parents at my centre last night asking if we were closing and the answer is simply no. I don't understand how closing and leaving parents without care for a day is going to fix anything. It's not," said West.
When it comes to the province's cost control framework — which he says acts as a guideline for where funds can be spent while making a "reasonable profit" as an operator — West believes child-care operators need to be patient.
"[The cost control framework] has kind of sent people into a bit of a tailspin because exactly what does reasonable profit mean and we've asked that, but we've never been given a straight answer," said West.
"We just need to wait and deal with what we're dealing with right now, which is the increase in the grant money, which is amazing for families."
He believes child-care staff currently don't have enough information to be able to make decisions around the future of the sector.
Provincial government responds
Reacting to the closures, Minister of Children and Family Services Searle Turton said he's still committed to the $10-a-day program and adhering to the agreement signed with the federal government.
"I am disappointed that there is a very small group of operators here in the province of Alberta that have decided to take this approach," he told CBC News.
"But I do find it disingenuous for some of these operators to go down this path of causing so much pain and suffering for families that are … just wanting to go to work this morning."
Turton said the "vast majority" of Alberta childcare operators have signed on to the program agreement.
According to the province's published list of licensed child-care facilities, there are 2,316 licensed programs in total, but some of those consist of different services offered by the same operator, such as daycare and after-school care offered at the same facility.
In total, there are 1,559 unique child-care operators in Alberta. The exact number of which have signed on in support of the agreement was not confirmed by the minister during his interview.
The minister is still concerned about how much money the federal government is supplying.
In an email statement to CBC News, Turton said Albertan child-care operators have his full support, and he recognizes the difficult situation they're in when it comes to increased operating costs, but the federal government "does not recognize this."
"The Premier will be requesting a meeting with the federal minister to discuss this further and to urge the federal government to consider changes to the framework that would support operators facing inflationary pressures," the statement reads.
Premier Danielle Smith echoed similar thoughts in a post to X, formerly known as Twitter.
For AACE, the protest is centred around the impact of the affordability grant on child-care operators. According to the association's chair, Tuesday's protest could mark the first of several potential future closures.
Churcher says she believes that the provincial government isn't standing up to the federal government, and parents need to be aware of how the child-care sector is being "transformed."
"I've always questioned the number of $10 a day," she said. "What can you actually buy for $10 a day? You can't get a coffee and a muffin. How are we going to have childcare at the same quality that we do now for that price?"
Louisa Owusu-Djan is the assistant director of Bow Valley Child Care Centre in Calgary, Alta., one of the child-care centres participating in Tuesday's rolling closures. (Colleen Underwood/CBC)
Churcher, along with a group of protesters, attended Lethbridge City Hall with staff from 12 child-care programs — seven of which are AACE members — and some parents.
Jennifer Vanderlaan is a parent who has been affected by the daycare closures. Vanderlaan didn't want to identify which child-care centre her child attends in Lethbridge but she's in support of the protest.
"They've been fighting tirelessly behind the scenes for two years for the changes that they needed to see to make their businesses viable while keeping quality childcare," said Vanderlaan.
A protest took place at Lethbridge City Hall where people showed their support for the Association of Alberta Childcare Entrepreneurs (AACE) and daycare closures across the province. (Ose Irete/CBC)
She's concerned about having to pay more for child care should the daycare model be adjusted with the cost control framework, and a reduction in the quality of the care her child receives as a result of increasing costs.
"As a parent you're a bit conflicted because you want to support your daycare provider, which I do wholeheartedly, but also I'm a working parent and this is affecting us in the sense of who looks after our children for the day."