When a bonus is a negative
“It’s insulting to pay us to have babies,” was one woman’s response to the Danny Williams baby bonus plan announced during the 2007 election campaign. Others praised it as being helpful for parents. Still others questioned what effect it would have on demographics — would more low income families take advantage of it, or more teenagers? Reaction was mixed to say the least.
Since then, though, it’s hardly come up in public debate. I raised it once with Finance Minister Tom Marshall at a childcare forum, asking why if we can provide $1,000 per child at birth plus an additional $1,200 for their first year we can’t scale some of that back and invest it in much-needed non-profit community based daycare for our children.
This was on the heels of the “big” daycare announcement in 2011, wherein our government promised to create 400 new daycare spots. Actually, what they promised was to create 400 newly regulated childcare spots. From what I can tell in speaking with daycare providers and parents there aren’t that many new to the market spots being created. Instead, formerly unregistered home daycares are now becoming registered.
They invested $3 million in that project last year and Minister Charlene Johnson had indicated that this year’s budget will reflect another $2 million. That’s a drop in the bucket compared to the approximately $18.3 million that will have been paid out in the $1,000 baby bonus since 2008. In the four years between 2008 and 2011, there have been a total of 18,330 births recorded in the province (using tables from Stats Canada and our provincial perinatal program records). The $1,000 universal baby bonus reflects just over $18,330,000 in payouts. That’s not including the additional $1,200/child in EI top-ups and the administrative costs of running this program.
And what has been the result of this huge investment in ensuring our province’s future — or as Danny William’s put it, keeping us from becoming a “dying race?” Well , despite an initial jump in births in 2008, resulting in 7.5 per cent increase over 2007, in fact the overall shift has been a decrease in births. Yes, that’s right. In 2011 there were approximately 400 less births than in 2007, when our then premier declared us a dying race.
In fact, we’ve experienced an overall decrease in births of 9.2 per cent. Does that sound like the plan is working to you? And in our one big year, 2008, when births increased by 345 over the previous year, our population in the 0-4 age range only increased by 285. Essentially, even if we increase the birth rate we can’t make people stay. According to the 2010 Annual Demographic Estimates by Statistics Canada, we have the highest median age — in other words the most aging population — and the lowest proportion of children in the country. In 2010, we had 300 more deaths than births in this province.
In fact, we have experienced population growth since 2007. However, it has been entirely due to people moving to Newfoundland. And the majority are not skilled foreigners migrating from other countries, but interprovincial migration, mostly from Ontario — in other words, retirees returning home. Our rate of “natural increase” ( births minus deaths) has been negative since 2006, and getting lower into those negative numbers every year. In 2010, our natural increase was a decrease of 285.
So what is that $1,000 per child doing for this province? I doubt it’s keeping the situation from becoming worse. In fact, it may be artificially inflating statistics as women who live away return home to have their babies and then move back to their new home province. It’s OK. They’ll come back here again when they retire, right? In fact, between 2007 and 2010, our population in the 65-69 years of age range increased by 3,603. Meanwhile, except for a slight positive shift in the 0-4 age range, we’re experiencing decreasing population across all childhood ages. There were 4,048 less children in this province in 2010 than there were in 2007
It’s been four years and the baby bonus has not created any positive change in our province’s demographics. In fact, the evidence points entirely to the contrary: that by concentrating their efforts on this notion of paying women to have babies, our government is allocating a large amount of funds that could be better used in providing long-term sustainability for the population we do have.
After all, what happens to that $1,000? Is it reinvested in our communities or even the children themselves? Sure, some parents are putting it away in an RESP fund to pay for a future education (that their child will most likely get in another province or bring elsewhere once they have their degree). Others are using it towards expenses incurred such as diapers and car seats — none of which are made in Newfoundland and many of which are not even bought in Newfoundland. I bought a new dryer, frankly. Others have used it to travel. In my own area I’ve been told of a young woman who got pregnant because her boyfriend wanted a bigger TV and a new Xbox. One hopes stories like that are rare.
Take that $1,000 per child, though — $18.3 million over 4 years — and invest it in universal communitybased daycare, breastfeeding support and promotion, increased and streamlined health services for children and seniors, support for working parents, or just an overall provincial strategy to provide better services to families, from health care to childcare to employment support and we may have seen actual change.
The fact is our government has invested more money, through this program, in car seats and diapers than it has committed to things like childcare, breastfeeding support and healthy eating promotion, and all the other factors that would make our current population healthier and more sustainable. And, while I, like many parents, appreciated that extra money, it is not the role of government to provide parents with a consumer allowance. Their role is to provide families with communities they can actually live in. Dara Squires is a freelance writer and mom of three based in Corner Brook. You can
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