Foreign firm quietly buying local centres
rafe arnott/metro vancouver
An Australian big-box daycare company has been quietly acquiring centres in B.C., Alberta and Ontario, prompting fears of higher prices and lower quality.
Since at least mid-September, Canadian daycare operators have been receiving buyout offers from an investment group linked to ABC Learning Centres, the world’s largest private childcare provider.
"ABC is great at moving into an area and lowering prices to squeeze out competition," said NDP MP Olivia Chow. "But once they dominate, they profit by raising prices, cutting staff."
In Australia, the company experienced massive growth after the government allowed childcare rebates to be spent at private providers. The B.C. government made a similar announcement on Oct. 1.
Langley’s Country Grove Children’s Centre received an offer in September, which included a 45-day non-disclosure agreement forbidding discussion of any sale.
"The letterhead stated ‘Adroit Investments’ but the contact information left for me was this company called 123 Global," said owner Susan Harney. 123 Global is affiliated with ABC and is used as the company’s growth engine.
"ABC says they’re not interested in profits, just quality of care," said Harney. "If that’s true, then why aren’t they proud to be coming to Canada? Why all the secrecy?"
Harney is a board member of the Coalition of Child Care Advocates of B.C., which will release a report on big-box daycare during a forum at Harbour Centre tonight.
ABC has denied Canadian expansion plans, but six centres are already open in Calgary as 123 Busy Beavers, another company linked to ABC.