Boons, boondoggles seen in P.C. baby bonus pitch

A pledge to pay Newfoundland and Labrador parents to have babies will address — but not solve — the province's dropping population, an economist says.

A campaign pledge to pay Newfoundland and Labrador parents to have babies will address — but won't solve — the province's dropping population, an economist says.

Newfoundland and Labrador's PCs are pledging to give parents $1,000 for each child born or adopted. ((CBC))

Progressive Conservative leader Danny Williamsthis week announced a $1,000 payment will be made for every baby born or adopted in the province.

The programwon't overcome the low fertility rate, said Doug May, a Memorial University professor who specializes in the labour market and demographics.

A similar bonus program worked in Quebec during in the 1990s, he said, but not until the government raised the benefits for a third child to $8,000.

Amore influential factor in parents' decision-makingmay be the kind of child care andearlyeducationthe province offers, he added.

"There's some initial evidence to show that, in fact, if the governments stay out of the bedroom of their citizens but in fact get into early childhood learning, get into day-care… that has a somewhat larger impact on the fertility rate," May said.

"If [parents] know that they can go back to work… and know that those children can be taken care of, then that is the thing that really makes a difference."

The P.C. proposal, part ofits platform for theOct. 9 general election, has been met with mixed reaction, from mild applause from parents to outrage in some quarters over the concept itself.

"That's an insult— an absolute insult— to anyone with any degree of intelligence at all," said Inez Greenham, who met Liberal leader Gerry Reid Wednesday during a campaign stop at the Notre Dame Bay Memorial Health Centre.

"Is that all a baby's worth? A thousand dollars?"

In Corner Brook, resident Brenda Companion said the so-called baby bonus would come in handy for many parents.

"A thousand dollars sounds wonderful. But is it going to fix the problem and make the population grow? I'd love to think so."

Bill Medhurst, who also lives in Corner Brook, said the program won't accomplish much, particularly in areas with high unemployment.

"Once you get the $1,000, that's great for a few clothes and maybe a bit of food on the table, but what happens a month down the road when you have no job?" he asked.

Economist Doug May said greater spending on day care may have a greater effect on birth rates than a baby bonus. ((CBC) )

On the campaign trail in Change Islands on Wednesday, residents told Williamsthe key to turning the population around is to make it easier for families who have moved away to come home.

"What I'd like to see is the babies that were born and left Newfoundland, I'd like to see them back here again," one woman said.

Williams says the bonus is one part of a larger program, including a monthly top-up to employment insurance benefits for parental leave and a broadened day-care program.

Newfoundland and Labrador's population has dropped by more than 60,000 residents over the last 15 years, and the province's birthrate is among the lowest in the country.

Program falls short, opposition parties say

New Democratic leader Lorraine Michael describes the offer as short-sighted.

She said more lower-income families may be tempted to have childrenthan more affluent couples.

"We don't have enough child-care spaces," she said. "Where are the services going to be for those low-income people if they start having more children?"

Liberal leader Gerry Reid said money allocated for the program could be better spent on a tax break for families.

The governing Progressive Conservatives said they are prepared to spend $4.5 million on the program. That would work out to 4,500 babies— slightly more than the 4,368 lives births that Statistics Canada recorded in a 12-month period ending in June 2006.