Saskatchewan takes ‘the most serious, official look at basic income’ in Canada in decades

From the province that brought the concept of Medicare to millions of Canadians, Saskatchewan’s progressive policy credentials are being tested yet again in the form of basic income policy.

The Advisory Group on Poverty Reduction – formed by the conservative Saskatchewan Party led by Canada’s most popular Premier, Brad Wall — recently recommended that the provincial government implement a basic income pilot project.

Dr. Ryan Meili, who served as one of the advisors for the group, calls this “the most serious official look at basic income from a government in Canada in decades.”

“To have five assistant deputy ministers from five ministries come to consensus with community leaders and experts in calling for a trial of this approach is a significant step toward taking this from a nice idea to a real policy option,” Meili tells Leaders and Legacies.

The five ministries involved were Economy, Health, Education, Justice and Social Services.

Meili says if the Saskatchewan government carries through with a pilot, “it will bring basic income to the forefront of serious considerations” for reducing poverty and improving the health of Canadians.

The doctor is also the founder of Upstream: Institute for a Healthy Society, notes that the advisory group’s report called for an “ambitious” reduction in poverty from 10 percent in 2012, using the Market Basket Measure, to five percent by the end of 2020.

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“This 50 percent reduction would have a significant impact on health outcomes, given that income is the single biggest predictive factor of longevity and wellness,” he says.

Steps needed to reach this goal were included in the report, including recommendations for child care, housing, employment, food security, health, and income itself.

“If followed and successful, the next generation in Saskatchewan could be among the healthiest ever seen,” Meili says. The Upstream founder says it’s not clear at this point whether government will accept the recommendations in whole or in part, but he is hopeful they will be on board.

Donna Harpauer, the minister of Social Services, “was very involved during the process.”

“In fact, it was her guidance that we maintain the current trajectory of poverty reduction that led us to select the goal we did.”

Meili acknowledges there are fiscal restraints on the government during a time of low oil prices, given that the prairie province is second only to Alberta in oil production.

“However, that’s exactly the time we should invest more in reducing and preventing poverty in order to prevent short-term economic woes from sending another generation through the cycle of poverty,” he says.

There has been great movement in Canada to push for basic income policy. The Canadian Medical Association recently passed a resolution in support of basic income. Prince Edward Island’s government has also pledged to look at a guaranteed income policy. As well, mayors across Canada are speaking out in favour of some kind of minimum income for Canadians.

The Saskatchewan Green Party is in favour of basic income policy, as is the NDP Party, the Official Opposition in the province. They are also urging Premier Wall to adopt the policy.

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David Forbes, NDP Social Services critic.

“If we successfully tackle poverty in our province, we’ll reap the benefits of better health outcomes, better social outcomes and better economic outcomes. That means brighter futures and a stronger province for every one of us,” says NDP Social Services critic David Forbes.

“Guaranteed basic income programs have shown promise elsewhere, and they’ve received support from across the political spectrum. So we think it makes good sense to implement a pilot project here,” Forbes says.

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