Brown Bear owner wants a level playing field for private daycares

Tamara Brown in front of Brown Bear Day Care's facility on Stittsville Main Street. Photo by Barry Gray.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Tamara Brown (photo above by Barry Gray) owns the three Brown Bear Day Care centres in Stittsville. In Part 1 of our interview, she explained how all-day kindergarten is hurting daycare centres in our area.  

In Part 2, she gives an overview of several other issues affecting her and other local day care facilities, including new provincial licensing standards and different rules for non-profit vs. private centres in how funding and subsidies are allocated.

We’d like to hear from other parents and childcare providers about their experiences with daycare, and how the various issues are affecting you. You can email us at or add your comments below.

GLEN GOWER: Who licenses private daycare facilities?

TAMARA BROWN: The Ministry of Education.  There are a lot of changes coming down in the licensing.  The licensing process in child care has become so much more stringent, and in fact, in a non-reflective way.They’ll issue non-compliance for things that they otherwise would have recommended (previously).

I got a non-compliance because my license was in a frame. It’s been a frame for eight years but because there’s a signature on the back of it, it was “inaccessible to parents”. Little things like that that aren’t reflective of our child care, but with evey non-compliance you get, your grade lowers. Some parents in the community looking for a child care centre will just look at the marks.

I’ve heard it in the sector a lot. There are a lot of inconsistencies.

GG: Earlier you told me about changes underway to funding – can you explain what’s going on?

TB: The biggest piece to that is what’s called the floating subsidy system. Right now in Ottawa, we are one of three municipalities that have a council direction that stipulates public funds are not allowed to be shared with private centres.  You have to be a not-for-profit centre. Not-for-profit is primarily a tax construct more than anything. The not-for-profit sector in Ottawa is extremely strong, and has a lot of lobbying power.

The province had given direction to Ottawa to say “you need to change this” but the not-for-profit lobbyists got up and were really loud and the province backed off and the City had to continue with this council direction.

GG: How does the floating subsidy work?

TB: If a parent does not earn a high enough income to pay for child care, they go to the government and receive subsidy based on their income.

What happens here in Ottawa right now is that not-for-profit centres A, B and C have subsidized spaces. If you’re a parent who receives a subsidy, you have to pick A, B or C. It doesn’t matter if you like them, it doesn’t matter if they treat you poorly, you have to stay there because you can’t go anywhere you want.

We’re trying to move to a floating subsidy system. The not-for-profits have been instrumental in making this a really slow transition.  (In a floating system,) any family that is eligible for a subsidy can go and find a space (private or not-for-profit), and the government pays for it. So it’s full parental choice.

There’s a pilot project underway right now to test this out. I was a private centre that was accepted into the pilot project. Originally (in the pilot project) parents with floating subsidies could go to not-for-profit or private. That got changed. Now they can go to a private centre if there is no not-for-profit centre in the area that’s willing to accept them.

They’re not testing out the floating subsidy system in a true floating way, they’re still assigning spaces to centres so that people getting the subsidies still have to pick between these centres. There were only a few private centres that were allowed on.

GG: Are you lobbying the city?  Do you communicate with other daycare owners?

TB: I’m on committees with the City. I sit around the table with a lot of not-for-profits. Those that chat freely with me aren’t against an equal playing field and do want to collaborate. There are interesting conversations happening around those tables and we’re waiting for the dust to settle.

(This interview has been edited for length.)

Last year, Brown participated in a stakeholder reference group committee that provided feedback to the City of Ottawa on a variety of issues affecting daycare in Ottawa.  You can read the City of Ottawa 2014 Child Care Service Plan for more background on this issue.

Send us your comments at or add your comments below.


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