No baby bonus for Newfoundland and Labrador

Dara Squires newsroom@thewesternstar.com
Published on February 11, 2014
Dara Squires

Former Premier Danny Williams may consider the Conference Board of Canada’s forecast of a shrinking population to be “bullshit,” but a look at our province’s demographics backs it up.

A couple of years ago I wrote a column taking a look at the effect the “baby bonus” has had on our birth rate and growth statistics. In “When a bonus is a negative,” I wrote that from 2007 to 2012 “we’ve experienced an overall decrease in births of 9.2 per cent ... 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.”

A look at statistics and demographic information since then shows a continuing trend. Despite a slight increase in births in 2008, our young population has been rapidly declining from the days Danny himself declared our province “a dying race.”

Year to year, there’s been negative to negligible growth in our under-20 population. In 2007, we had 110,511 provincial citizens under the age of 20, making up 22 per cent of the overall population. In 2013, those numbers were much lower at 105,081 people and just under 20 per cent of the population.

Meanwhile, the growth of 18,000 in the population that the Conference Board mentioned is more than encompassed by our growth in the 50+ age range.

From 185,380 citizens ranging from 50 to 100+ in 2007, in 2013 that age group grew by over 30,000 to 215,818. From 36 per cent of the population in 2007, this age bracket grew to 41 per cent of the population in 2013. That’s a growth of five per cent while our provincial population overall only grew by 3.5 per cent.

In other words, not only do we have a rapidly aging population, but their growth is matched in the negative by decline in the younger population, signifying a decline in our reproductive and work force.

If that’s not a “dying race,” I don’t know what is.

Related: Williams says he believes N.L. population will not shrink

It’s not that the baby bonus caused this. The fact is that as depressed as our economy was in the days when the fishery ruled our forecasts, at least it was a consistent economy. Nowadays, with mega development and oil money, our economy is one that features short-term economic bursts that don’t seem to hold out  in the long run.

So, our population might stick around for a while, but once they reach childrearing years they want to know that they can have a long-term job.

And we have nothing else to attract a young population. It used to be entry-level homes were affordable, at least, but with the mega developments in housing and artificially inflated prices due to short-term migration and landlords buying up properties, an affordable family home is a dream for most young families.

Despite the money our government has poured into creating licensed daycare spots, the fact is the majority of these daycares can’t meet the needs of many working class families who need more flexible hours and school-daycare transportation options.

Any parent working during their child’s half day kindergarten year will tell you that daycare is neither affordable nor convenient for most parents.

And yet, our government continues to waste money on the provincial baby bonus as a supposed incentive to increase our population.

Statistics Canada estimates that in 2012/2013 Newfoundland and Labrador will have 4,420 births. Our baby bonus promises to pay $1,000 at birth plus another $100 a month for 12 months to a total of $2,200 a child. If each child received the full bonus, our government, in one year alone, will have paid out over $9 million. That’s a large investment in a program that has been shown since its implementation to be ineffective.

It’s time our government ceased this farce of a program and, as Danny says, “put their money where their mouth is” and create real incentives for healthy population growth and consistency.

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