Dec 15, 2016

Most and least expensive cities for child care: 4 key takeaways for BC

Jacob Edward / Flickr

A new CCPA report reveals staggering disparities in parents’ experiences with child care across the country. Prices are highest in Toronto and lowest in cities in Quebec where child care is heavily subsidized by the provincial government. Cities in Manitoba and PEI, the other two provinces in Canada that set child care fees and fund services directly, also have lower fees.

1. BC has some of the most-expensive child care fees in the country

Child care costs in big cities in BC are second only to those in Ontario. These are the findings of a CCPA survey of child care providers in Canada’s 28 biggest cities, which covers all regulated spaces, both in centres and in home settings, to reflect the actual set of options available for parents.

A typical Vancouver family needs to fork over $1,321 a month for a spot in infant care at the end of their year-long parental leave, the fifth-highest fee in the country. Median prices for a toddler spot are slightly higher1—$1,325 a month or nearly $16,000 a year—making them second highest in the country after Toronto.

BC has some of the most expensive child care fees in the country—second only to those in Ontario.

Parents get a bit of a break when their child turns three, but at $950 a month preschool child care fees add up to $11,400 a year. That’s almost double the cost of the average undergraduate degree in BC (tuition and compulsory fees were $6,200 per year in 2016).

Child care fees are only slightly lower in Richmond and Burnaby: around $1,200 a month for infants and toddlers. Preschool child care costs $875 a month in Richmond and $850 a month in Burnaby.

Surrey has the lowest child care fees of BC’s big cities: $995 a month for infants, $950 for toddlers and $750 for preschool-aged children. Still, a typical Surrey family with a four-year old pays $7,000 more a year for child care than a comparable family in Montreal. The gap is bigger for younger children: over $9,000 for a toddler.

The BC government often dismisses concern over high fees by arguing they have a child care subsidy for lower-income families. But not so fast! That subsidy amount has now been frozen for 11 years. And even families that qualify for the full subsidy ($550 a month for a preschool child) are still, on average, paying $400 a month out of pocket in Vancouver—far more than most low-income families can manage. 

2. Child care fees are rising at an alarming rate 

In the last three years, fee increases were more than three times higher than the rate of inflation and growing much faster than family incomes. Vancouver’s median child care fees have grown by 9% since 2014.

Burnaby saw even higher increases—a steep 15% for preschool-aged children and an 18% increase for toddler child care fees. In Surrey, preschool fees were unchanged from last year, but toddler fees increased by 6% in the last year alone. Data is not available for Richmond as this is the first year the city was included in the survey.

3. BC’s patchwork of child care services is not working for families

Not only is child care increasingly expensive but there also aren’t enough spaces for families who need them. Almost all of Vancouver’s child care centres have waitlists (96%) as do most centres in Burnaby (80%) and Richmond (74%). Waitlists are less common in Surrey (25% of centres have them), but that’s still an indication of unmet needs. Moms and dads can’t afford to go back to work or are forced to resort to unregulated child care providers with no health and safety standards, monitoring or oversight.

And while the child care fee report does not address this specifically, we know from other research that the quality of child care programs is all over the place. Quite simply, the market is failing BC families.

4. It’s time to adopt the $10-a-Day Child Care Plan

Public investment in affordable, quality child care is long overdue across the country, and is particularly needed in provinces like BC and Ontario where child care is becoming increasingly unaffordable.

Not only is child care increasingly expensive but there also aren’t enough spaces for families who need them.

For BC, this means adopting the $10-a-Day Child Care Plan. The Plan was developed by local child care experts building on the large body of Canadian and international evidence about what works. It’s a made-in-BC framework for transforming the existing patchwork of programs into an integrated, quality, affordable child care system, and for expanding capacity so child care spaces are available for all families who need them.

The public support is there. The Plan is widely endorsed and the latest BC Budget consultation report recommends the type of investment in child care that captures the characteristics of the $10-a-Day Plan: investment in an “affordable, accessible and high-quality childcare plan.”

Similar recommendations were made in the previous three BC Budget Consultation reports but our politicians dismissed them with the excuse that “we simply can’t afford it.” My own research shows this is not the case.

What BC families can’t afford is continuing the status quo of rapidly rising child care fees and insufficient spaces.


  1. Infant fees are generally the most expensive due to higher staff-to-child ratios (one early childhood educator cares for fewer infants than children of older ages). However, infants are much more likely to be cared for in home child care settings than children of older ages, partly because the high costs price parents out of the market, leading centres to offer fewer infant spots due to reduced demand.

    Since home child care is generally cheaper than centre-based care, the fee survey found that the median fee for available infant child care spots is lower (or the same) as that for toddlers in some cities, including Vancouver, Richmond and Burnaby.

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