Aussie day-care company eyes Calgary; City operators being approached to sell facilities

Sean Myers, Calgary Herald

A large, international child care corporation appears to be behind an attempt to introduce big-box style facilities to Calgary’s day-care industry. …

At least one large provider in Calgary is believed to have sold some or all of its facilities, effective Nov. 1, to a company called 123 Busy Beavers Learning Centres, according to several sources.

Other local operators said they have been approached, but declined to comment further.

Busy Beavers has been linked by at least two media outlets to Australian-based ABC Learning Centres, which owns 2,200 centres in Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States and is the largest child care provider in its home country. …

On Tuesday, ABC officials in Australia denied they had ambitions to expand into Canada, according to the Brisbane Courier-Mail.

ABC is now second-largest child care provider in the United States, according to a profile compiled by not-for-profit child care advocates in Australia and Ontario, and distributed here by the Edmonton-based Public Interest Alberta.

“What we have seen in the past is when these larger corporations come in to a community, they will often buy up enough to allow them control of the market,” said Bill Kilgannon of Public Interest. “Once they have control, they will wield influence on child care policy.”

When ABC started operating in Australia, about 70 per cent of child care centres were non-profit. Now, more than 70 per cent are commercially operated, according to Public Interest.

Phone calls to Busy Beavers requesting an interview were not returned, but when asked if the company was moving into Edmonton and Calgary, the call taker on the company’s information line said, “I know Calgary, for sure.” ….

A report released in 2006 by the Australian Institute, a think-tank, concluded there were “a number of systemic barriers to provision of high-quality care at ABC Learning Centres.”

It said the centres’ food budgets were low and cooks poorly paid, leading to poorer quality food for children than provided by non-profit centres. …

In Alberta, accredited private operators are able to access a subsidy for staff wages worth up to $4.14 per hour.

About 65 per cent of the province’s day-care facilities are owned privately, and 35 per cent are non-profit.

“Our role is to ensure any new owner coming in meets the standards,” said Jody Korchinski, spokeswoman for Alberta Children’s Services.

In Ontario, where 78 per cent of the industry is run by non-profit organizations, the government appears to be less receptive to commercialization of day-care facilities.

“Our focus is on quality, not quantity,” said Tricia Edgar, spokeswoman for Ontario’s Ministry of Children and Youth Services.