Buy-up of child care providers alarms some

Kris Schumacher, Prince Rupert Daily News

Despite concerns about a foreign corporation attempting to buy community child care providers across British Columbia, so far there has been no news of such purchasing offers from local child care providers in Prince Rupert.

It was announced recently by the Coalition of Child Care Advocates of B.C. that ABC Learning Centres of Australia and their corporate partner 123-Global have been making purchasing offers across B.C., as well as in Alberta and Ontario. Coalition representative Rita Chudnovsky said that buyout letters began going to community-based for-profit child care providers in B.C. just two weeks before the B.C. government announced a $12.5 million capital fund to create new child care spaces, available to for-profit operations.

“B.C. child care is not for sale and taxpayers should not be subsidizing the buy-out of community-based child care centres or the profits of a foreign-based multinational corporation,” said Chudnovsky. “Public money should be used to expand non-profit quality child care centres, not see B.C. child care turned into a foreign-owned, big-box warehouse business.”

As of last week, none of the Prince Rupert child care facilities contacted by The Daily News had received letters regarding the possibility of being purchased, while some were not even aware of the issue. The general consensus among local child care providers was one of concern about the possibility of a foreign-based corporation possibly headed into Prince Rupert.

“The timing of the announcement seems ironic with our community starting to discuss child care within our schools,” said Tina Last, who operates a family daycare service in Prince Rupert. “I don’t really know if I need to be alarmed, or if this is just something that happens in bigger communities. I worry that if a community does go in the direction of having daycares in every school, whether that will open the door more to companies like that who could bid to open centres in schools.”

The majority of child care centres in Prince Rupert are non-profit providers….

“It’s not very likely that somebody would be looking at Prince Rupert, unless they were going to just start up a new one,” said Judy Riddell of Berry Patch Child Care Resource and Referral Centre. “The thing is they can apply for the capital grants now due to a change the provincial government has made.”

Riddell said that whether a new private for-profit child care centre would be a positive or negative thing for Prince Rupert depends on a person’s view of free enterprise, but said looking after children is such an important job that whoever is responsible, they need to be doing a good job. ….

“Our understanding is letters have gone out to child care providers in a number of communities in the province, not just the Lower Mainland,” said Chudnovsky. “We’re still very concerned about it. The threat posed by foreign multinationals has not gone away, and we don’t have any assurance from the provincial government that they are equally concerned or doing anything to make sure child care stays in the community’s hands.”

The Coalition of Child Care Advocates believes the government needs to first recognize the concern about the issue, and assure families that this is not their vision or plan for child care. The coalition also wants the province to assure taxpayers that public money will not facilitate a take-over of B.C.-owned providers, or subsidize profits resulting from the sale of those centres to a foreign-based corporation. Lastly, Chudnovsky says the coalition would like to see the government acknowledge the long-standing crisis in child care is a result of their own “lack of good policy and lack of adequate funding.”

“We’re continuing to raise the issue in communities, and communities continue to recognize it as an issue because British Columbians deserve a response.”