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Canadians Don’t Love Stephen Harper’s Baby Bursary, Poll Finds

Canada's Universal Childcare Benefit has turned more people against the Conservatives than it's recruited, it turns out.

by Justin Ling
Aug 18 2015, 4:00am

Poor guy looks so disappointed in us all. Photo via Flickr user Prime Minister Gr

When Stephen Harper announced, last year, that he'd be mailing Canadian families $2.5 billion, it was hailed as a pretty smart political move.

Under the expanded Universal Child Care Benefit (UCCB), families would get $60 per month for each kid between seven and 18, and $160 per month for each child under the age of seven (an increase of $60).

Rather than send out that money immediately, the Conservatives backloaded the benefit until right before the election. Families got months' worth of checks in one go, just a month prior to the official launch of the 42nd general election.

It was expected to be a political boon for the Conservative government, which was still trying to claw back a lead from Justin Trudeau and, later, Tom Mulcair.

But, guess what: it wasn't.

A new poll conducted by Forum Research shows that Canadians weren't tremendously thrilled at the optics of being mailed a wad of cash.

Of those who received the check, 36 percent said the UCCB would make them less likely to vote Conservative. Just 17 percent said they'd be more likely to cast their ballot for Stephen Harper. The remaining half said it would either have no bearing, or that they didn't know.

The numbers are, perhaps unsurprisingly, even more chilly for the Conservatives among the three-quarters of those surveyed who did not receive a check because they do not have kids, or because their children have aged out of the benefit.

These statistics bear some repetition.

The Conservatives mailed families checks for $500, and people became less likely to vote for them.

Why?

Well, it turns out that Canadians aren't crazy about being bought off.

When asked whether they thought these checks were "a genuine effort to help parents with children" or "just an election ploy to buy votes," the responses were pretty clear.

Nearly two thirds of all respondents said it was a case of electioneering, while only a quarter saw it as a straight-from-the-heart attempt to give families a hand. Even a quarter of Conservative supporters saw it as a Machiavellian plot to win political points with the procreating population. More than one in ten Conservative supporters said it would make them less likely to vote for Harper.

Even if the UCCB is a political flop, however, it may actually be surprisingly good public policy. Exactly 70 percent of those who got the check said their household actually needed the money—the rest, of course, said they didn't need it. So perhaps Harper's argument that the check is an efficient way to help parents cover the cost of having kids isn't totally off base.

On the other hand, the checks remain a prize you win for having babies.

And it's not like the Conservatives are the only ones who support the UCCB. The NDP want to keep it as-is, while the Liberals want to expand it—but tied to income, so rich families get less and poor families get more.

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