The Newfoundland and Labrador government’s standing offer to pay residents of remote communities to relocate can pit neighbours against one another in a bid to save the province money, according to a professor studying human migration.

The Community Relocation Policy is community-driven, meaning residents have to approach the provincial government for a cost-benefit analysis to determine if they qualify.

If the government can save enough money by cutting off provincial and municipal services, and 90 per cent of residents vote to leave, they are paid up to $270,000 per household or $10,000 per resident over 18 years old who do not own property, to leave the area.

Nobody is forced to move after a yes vote, but garbage collection, sewage and water, street lighting, road maintenance, ferry service, schools, health care and electricity are all cut off.

Putting a price on places that families have called home for generations isn’t easy.

Isabelle Cote, an assistant professor with Memorial University’s political science department, said when significant sums of money are on the table, major rifts can emerge within tight-knit towns. In Little Bay Islands, 553 kilometres northwest of St. John’s, 85 residents recently voted to leave, versus 10 who chose to stay.

“It’s such a small community, you probably know the identity of the people who voted against or voted for. You can imagine that tension that created,” she told CTV’s Your Morning on Thursday. “As you can imagine it is not pretty. There are definitely some tensions.”

Critics of the program have said it encourages residents to remain in communities that would otherwise be likely to close in the hopes of getting a payout. Others see the payments as one-in-a-lifetime opportunities.

Cote said some communities find themselves in a state of flux because of the policy. Subsequent votes to stay or leave can swing one way or the other based on a few people moving in and out, dying or changing their minds.

“The desire to relocate lingers, or is not satisfied immediately,” she said.

A migrant of a small community in the region herself, Cote said residents who collectively choose to leave can preserve some links to the past long after their towns are no longer printed on maps.

“It doesn’t mean that it is off limits,” she said. “I still have the option of visiting my home town. I can visit my grandparent’s cemetery.”