When a bonus is a neg­a­tive

The Compass - - CLASSIFIED -

“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

con­tact her on face­book at www.face­book.com/read­ilya­parent

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