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Survey: population increase unpopular

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More than half the Island are against increasing Bermuda’s population to stimulate the economy, according to a new poll.

The survey commissioned for The Royal Gazette shows that 54 per cent of the Island disagrees with the proposition of growing numbers to help ease the Island’s financial woes.

Bob Richards, the Minister of Finance, as well as a string of high-profile economists, have repeatedly pointed to a connection between flagging population figures and Bermuda’s struggle to combat the effects of the recession.

Thousands of expatriate workers have left the Island in recent years in a period that has seen the economy shrink by about 10 per cent.

But in the poll, carried out by Global Research between July 1 and 10, just over one in three, or 34 per cent, said they agreed with the comment: “Bermuda should try to increase its population to help improve the economy.”

Some 41 per cent gave their answer as “strongly disagree”, with a further 13 per cent saying they “somewhat disagree”. Twelve per cent said they neither agreed nor disagreed.

A breakdown of the results by race shows 43 per cent of whites agreed, compared with 27 per cent of blacks. Among blacks, 45 per cent said they strongly disagreed.

Older people were more likely to agree with the idea of population increase, with 51 per cent of those aged 65 and older saying yes, compared with 20 per cent of 18- to 34-year-olds. In February this year, Don Mills, chief executive officer of a Canadian market research company involved in a pioneering Bermuda business confidence survey, said the declining population was the second most important business issue flagged by corporate decision makers.

Mr Mills argued the Island needs a national dialogue on population issues.

Meanwhile Mr Richards has been quoted as saying: “It is virtually impossible to grow GDP with a shrinking population … without a game-changer, we have to depend on incremental growth in population and small increases in productivity to grow GDP.”

Former Premier Sir John Swan said recently: “Growing the population is not just critical to growing the economy but to Bermuda‘s very viability.”

Speaking on the issue in a joint opinion piece, Sir John and political commentator Larry Burchall stated: “Today in the midst of Bermuda’s unique but declining economy, there stands an ordinary Bermudian who today says, ‘I see and hear all of that. But I’ve just lost my job. Now I don’t have a job. I see a foreigner here who is doing a job that I believe I can do.’

“As we have shown you, Bermudians are a shrinking or non-growing group.

“We have to import people to replace Bermudian shrinkage.

“Bermuda’s national economy cannot and will not grow or regenerate if we rely solely on Bermudians. If we do get it wrong and concentrate our efforts on preserving jobs for Bermudians, we will, absolutely, find that Bermuda’s economy will continue to wilt and die a slow death.”

And Sylvan Richards, the Junior Minister for Home Affairs, said in March last year that an increase in population was needed “in order for our economy to have the critical mass that it needs to function properly”.

The telephone poll of 403 Bermuda residents aged 18 or over has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 per cent.

Bob Richards, the Minister of Finance