The NWT and federal governments have signed an agreement to cut childcare costs, increase the number of childcare spaces, and support early childhood educators across the territory.
The $10-a-day childcare agreement, announced in Ottawa on Wednesday afternoon, intends to halve childcare fees and add 70 NWT childcare spaces by the end of 2022. The federal government will pay $51 million over five years.
Families in the territory currently pay an average of $38 a day, while many are on waitlists for childcare programming.
“Families will have access to more affordable childcare and, in some instances, access to childcare spaces for the very first time,” NWT Premier Caroline Cochrane said of the agreement, acknowledging that several communities still have no licensed early learning and childcare programs.
The territory plans to reach the $10-a-day mark within five years, projecting an average annual saving of $9,500 for families, while creating a further 230 childcare spaces in that time.
Cochrane said building a robust and sustainable early learning and childcare system in the NWT will require new and improved infrastructure, professional learning opportunities, and funding to support culturally relevant programming. She said the NWT government plans to work with Indigenous and community governments.
“Childcare is good for parents, it’s good for kids, but it’s also good for the economy,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said. “This is the thing that was made so clear to so many families over the course of this pandemic.”
During a forum on early childhood education in the NWT last October, participants said many early childhood educators have to take second jobs to make a living. Poor wages and burnout were identified as factors in high staff turnover.
NWT education minister RJ Simpson on Wednesday acknowledged the difficulty of attracting and retaining early childcare workers in the North. Part of the issue, he said, is the large wage gap between childcare jobs and junior kindergarten positions, which require the same qualifications.
“In the Northwest Territories, we have more jobs than people. So it is difficult to attract people in any industry, and especially early childhood educators,” Simpson said.
The new agreement, the minister said, will shrink that gap and support competitive wages in the field. He added funding will be used to support programming at Aurora College to train early learning childhood educators and make sure people in communities have access to that training online.
Ryan Fequet, president of the Yellowknife Day Care Association, stressed the importance of supporting wages for early childcare educators in a recent letter to MLAs.
According to that letter, educators in the territory’s school system make $80,180 to $129,448 a year while early childhood educators make around $18 to $24 an hour, leading to high turnover and recruitment challenges.
“We need government support to appropriately compensate our excellent staff,” Fequet wrote. “Support with staff compensation would help us internally manage other aspects of our budget such as our member fees. Most importantly, it would help stabilize staffing at our organization, and likely other organizations across the NWT.”
The association recently announced it would start paying staff a living wage, resulting in an increase in membership fees. Fequet said there are around 175 people on the waiting list for a childcare spot.
The NWT joins nine provinces and the Yukon in signing a childcare agreement with the federal government.
Prime Minister Trudeau said he expects to reach an agreement with Nunavut early in the new year. Ontario, the lone province yet to sign an agreement, has said it requires more money to make such a program sustainable in the long term.