Goodbye welfare, hello basic income

We have built something exceptional here in Canada, despite coming of age besides the world’s most powerful nation. Yet as similar as we are to the U.S., we take great pride in our differences. We differentiate ourselves in many ways, from our parliamentary system of government, to our more egalitarian point of view, and through our emphasis on social programs for the common good — especially health care.

Inequality is having a catastrophic effect on the U.S. economy, on the American social fabric, and in the health of its people. We are not immune. We are merely in a slower freefall. Inequality is not an issue for poor people – it is an issue for all of us.

The Basic Income solution

There is a movement that has been gaining steam in Canada to help halt this slide toward a more unequal and less healthy society. What Canada needs is a basic income guarantee as its next great social program. In some ways, it’s incredibly simple. No person in Canada would ever fall below a set, annual income threshold.

For our purposes here, let’s say that cut-off is $20,000 a year. In one example, a man may be employed part time while also attending college for some re-training and he earns $12,000 a year. The basic income guarantee would kick in with $8,000 at tax time, spread out monthly using our existing and effective tax delivery system. In another example, a single mom stays home to care for her children and volunteers part-time in her community. She would be entitled to $20,000 so she doesn’t slip below the poverty line. This is not living the good life. This is ‘basic income’ to meet her needs. This is far better than punitive welfare, where she must purge herself of every asset that she has. In the welfare model, she must also never earn more at a job than $200 a month (in Ontario) or she will see money clawed back.

In other words, she must be completely impoverished, and then be expected to somehow start again. This is not a social program; it is a hideous, finger-pointing, neo-liberal monstrosity. And it is ineffective in the extreme.

PEI to lead the way

After all party leaders in Prince Edward Island endorsed a Basic Income Guarantee (BIG) program recently as a poverty reduction strategy, there is optimism that the long-sought-after program might just become a reality in Canada’s smallest province. That’s a great start.

The biggest elephant in the room is a fear that a large cross-section of people will simply stop being productive if they have a basic income guarantee. But there is ample evidence to suggest this simply won’t happen, from experiments done in Dauphin, Manitoba in the 1970s, Brazil in 2004 (and ongoing), a two-year pilot in Namibia from 2008-2010, and India in 2011, among other examples. Speaking about the most recent India experiment, renowned economist Guy Standing said that people worked more, not less.

A better life

When one is overly preoccupied with paying the rent on time, it leaves little room for daring to dream about other opportunities, to innovate and better oneself, or to even simply do an attentive job of raising a family. If we take the worry of poverty off people’s shoulders, there’s a much better chance to create a richer, more meaningful society for everyone.

When a Senate committee made rough calculations six years ago, they found it would cost about $20 billion to implement such a program. A 2008 study, estimated that $72 billion to $86 billion was the cost of health care, criminal justice and lost productivity, all associated with the crippling effects of inequality. In other words, we would actually be saving money to implement a basic income guarantee.

As for paying for such a program, it’s obvious that the entire welfare system could eventually be scrapped to save money. Other big-ticket and costly programs could be analyzed for their effectiveness or need once a basic income was part of Canadian life.

Those who lean left on the political spectrum can appreciate the obvious goal of ending poverty for all. Even those on the far right hand side of political opinion, who may only wish to talk about economic models, should appreciate a more simplified tax code, far less bureaucracy, and a chance for all Canadians to have more money to spend in within the economy.

Unlike our southern neighbour, Canada began as an egalitarian nation of modest means. We didn’t have a dominant upper class – we just had people working together in common cause.

Let’s choose a common cause again.

The toleration of inequality is a continuing blight on our national legacy, in a country where we should have a democratic right to equity. Canada has been blessed with a legacy of great leaders. It will be great leadership again – at national, provincial, and community levels – that creates an equitable society of opportunity for all.

All Prince Edward Island party leaders united in exploring basic income guarantee

By Marie Burge, Cooper Institute — On behalf of the PEI Working Group for Livable Income.

It is welcome news that the next Premier of Prince Edward Island is committed to exploring a Basic Income Guarantee (BIG) program for Island citizens. It is understood that this will be in the form of a demonstration project of at least five-to-seven years.

During the Leaders’ Forum on Women’s Issues held April 14, 2015, at Holland College, each one of the party leaders endorsed a Basic Income Guarantee program as a poverty reduction strategy. Members of the PEI Working Group for Livable Income (WGLI), a community group actively promoting BIG, were extremely pleased to hear the four party leaders state their commitment to BIG. Whichever party forms the next government after May 4, there is no doubt that they will be exploring BIG as a long-term program to eliminate poverty in PEI.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the Forum was the explicit endorsement from PC leader Rob Lantz, who stated, “I am going to advance the idea that we should explore a pilot project based on this idea of a Basic Income Guarantee… (BIG) would give people resources and the ability to live with dignity… There are economic benefits that would reach across the province…We are the perfect location for this type of pilot project.”

Liberal leader Wade MacLauchlan also voiced the support of his party and went so far as to call for a model program, not just a pilot, with potential for long-term established benefits: “We’d be actively interested in pursuing that (Basic Income Guarantee)…I’d call it a model program and build in a commitment to evidence-based research and action-based research.”

The Green Party of PEI has Basic Income Guarantee enshrined in its policy platform, Real Change 2015, in which they call for establishing a Commission to recommend a model of BIG. Leader Peter Bevan-Baker pointed out that the Greens have been advocates of BIG for many years, “Basic income guarantee is a wonderful idea…It is an absolute priority of a Green government.” He also added, “A Basic Income Guarantee provides freedoms for people… It allows them to make choices.”

NDP leader Mike Redmond has also endorsed Basic Income Guarantee since the idea was first floated as a policy for PEI a few years ago. Redmond also noted that in addition to implementing BIG, there are many other social programs that need to be strengthened or revamped to provide Islanders with adequate supports and services, including transportation, housing, food security, and livable wages.

The PEI Working Group for Livable Income (WGLI) has held in-depth consultations on BIG in Island communities for the past two years. The most common attitude of participants has been enthusiasm for a real long-term solution to poverty; what we have now is not working. WGLI will continue to represent the voice of the community in whatever processes the government will put in place to prepare for implementation of a BIG demonstration project, a model program, in Prince Edward Island. Furthermore, the Working Group for a Livable Income, with the support of the wider community, will mentor the content and process of BIG every step of the way.

Whether you’re left or right, Hugh Segal believes a basic income guarantee just makes good sense

Retired Conservative Senator, Hugh Segal.

Retired Conservative Senator, Hugh Segal.

By Roderick Benns

Hugh Segal is the Master of Massey College. He is also a Canadian political strategist, author, commentator, academic, and former Conservative senator. He served as chief of staff to Ontario Premier Bill Davis and Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. Segal is a former Vice-Chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Urban Poverty and has promoted a basic income guarantee since 1969.

There’s a reason the issue of a basic income guarantee never seems to go away, says retired Conservative Senator Hugh Segal — the idea simply makes too much sense.

Basic income (also called a guaranteed annual income) would see any Canadian who falls below the poverty line topped up with enough money to cover a basic living standard. Almost all models for basic income implementation would see it replace provincial welfare systems.

Segal says there are three things driving the support for this policy change.

“The first one is that we have a core understanding now that the gap between the rich and those living in poverty is not getting smaller. In fact, it’s getting substantially larger. And that is destabilizing for everyone, including for the economic forces that require our economy to work,” he says.

Using the language of renowned economist Guy Standing, Segal says those in precarious work situations – dubbed the ‘Precariat’ – coupled with people in low paying jobs, usually without benefits, creates the need for such a basic income policy.

“The second reason” that a basic income guarantee remains a viable idea, “is despite the billions we spend on social transfers to the provinces, the core issue is that the three million Canadians living in poverty is not changing. There is simply not enough meaningful change,” on this issue, says Segal.

Segal points to the experience of the Guaranteed Annual Supplement for seniors that was passed in 1975 by Ontario Premier Bill Davis. At the time, Segal was a 25-year-old legislative assistant who remembers a transformative decision that was made for Ontario’s seniors.

“Seniors were in deep difficulty – they were buying cat and dog food to augment their diets. The Toronto Star documented this,” he recalls. The Davis government decided to ensure cash transfers for seniors would happen each month, and the tax system was the chosen delivery instrument.

“Their incomes were automatically topped up. For seniors, it worked wonderfully. Poverty went from 35 percent in this population to three percent. The policy spread across the country and became federalized.”

Segal points out that this simple system is all that basic income policy is – topping up those who need it so they don’t fall below the poverty line. If they do fall below, this can lead to all kinds of expensive health issues, he notes.

The third reason the basic income idea continues to gain traction, says Segal, is that “we know that if we put our heads together, we don’t have to accept a hodgepodge of programs. Welfare doesn’t support anyone — it ensnares and entangles. It creates judgement. It is deeply problematic, wasteful, and expensive.”

Segal says a basic income guarantee should not be about left wing-right wing politics. “Whether left or right, this idea is attractive for all. Just give the money to the people living in poverty who will know what to do with it.”

Why I will welcome Rob Ford’s apology to me

Samuel-getachew_lg

By Samuel Getachew

Following my complaint to Toronto’s Integrity Commissioner, Valerie Jepson, Toronto’s 64th mayor and (now) City councillor, Rob Ford, is set to offer a “sincere, specific and public apology” today. His apology is based on racial slurs he made in 2012.

“Nobody sticks up for people like I do, every f–ing k–e, n—–r, f—ing w–p, d–go, whatever the race.” He then described himself as “the most racist guy around.”

His action was found to be “below the standards expected of him and were contrary to the Code of Conduct” and that “considering the position he held at the time, his actions were egregious and wholly unbecoming of the Office of the Mayor.”

Amen to that.

Calling on him to apologize, Ms. Jepson, accepted my argument that his apology should be appropriate and worthy of the position he held. According to her, this would “allow Ford to take responsibility for this specific incident, it will signal that he understands and respects the Ontario Human Rights Code, and it gets the apology on the public record”.

I know many friends of mine and die-hard supporters of the former mayor will fail to understand the action I took and will continue to excuse his misdeeds. Friends of mine have worked on his campaigns since 2010, when he was seen as a credible candidate despite his public shortcomings. Still, many stood by him throughout his mayoralty until supporting him became impossible and foolish.

I know reasonable Torontonians are convinced my action is motivated for partisan purpose. Many will assume I am part of the Liberal establishment intent on helping to destroy the Ford dynasty. I am not.

Let me explain myself.

I am a paid member of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario. I am an active supporter of Christine Elliot for leader. I am a director of the Toronto Centre Progressive Conservative Association. I have written countless blogs and articles endorsing Sir John A. Macdonald (who has also proven to be controversial in retrospect), as that of our best prime minister ever. I am even trying to collect the necessary resources to construct and build a bus station in a small village in Ethiopia to honour Brian Mulroney for his humanitarian efforts to the East African country.

So my Conservative partisan credentials are as good as Ford’s. They run deep. My beliefs come from the political centre where the majority of Canadians reside. Ford’s brand is nether Conservative nor Liberal. It has always been a Tea Party-like movement that is more American than Canadian and unless he adjusts and reconstructs himself accordingly, we should all reject this.

The ideal Conservative is progressive, humble and respectful. It is someone who respects individual liberty and builds public institutions to protect and promote human rights. The ideal Conservative understands government exists primarily to protect the most vulnerable and that minority rights are as important as that of the majority.

David Crombie understood that in Toronto, as much as Bill Davis did in Ontario. Rob Ford does not.

Ford needs to understand words — and in particular, racial slurs — are powerful and hurtful to all Canadians. Whether one is black, brown or white is secondary as they destroy the fabric of our culture and citizenship. We should never allow him to use them no matter how privileged and powerful he is.

It is fortunate that he or his brothers can freely hand out money to the less fortunate or can afford to invite thousands of residents to his mother’s backyard for a BBQ. What he should never have the privilege of doing is to use historically derogatory words to describe anybody.

I take my civic responsibilities and rights seriously. I certainly do not need to take out my citizenship card from my heart pocket to celebrate my citizenship the way Jean Charest powerfully did in a 1997 federal election debate. By forcing Ford to account for his racism, I am embracing and fulfilling the promise of my citizenship. That is more powerful than waving the Canadian flag on July 1st.

I am excited that my complaint was given its due course by the integrity commissioner, not because I am rich or connected, but because I am a citizen. This is proof that the system works and is accessible.

From the Council chamber, I will watch, in person, as Toronto’s 64th mayor apologizes to us all tonight and takes responsibility for what he did and said as mayor. I will then fully expect him to have a higher standard for himself and the office he occupies onwards.

As the Integrity Commissioner warned, “Should Mr. Ford engage in similar conduct in the future, it may be necessary to consider more significant penalties.”

– Samuel Getachew is a frequent columnist for Leaders and Legacies and the Huffington Post.

Basic income and ‘consensual capitalism’: an interview with Tim Ellis

Tim Ellis

Roderick Benns recently interviewed Tim Ellis about a basic income guarantee. Ellis is a writer, producer, and communications consultant living in Toronto, Ontario. He serves on the executive committee of the NDP in his riding, and also leads the communications team for Basic Income Canada Network. Views expressed here are his own.

Benns: How did you come to be involved with the issue of a basic income guarantee? What drives you to advocate for it? 

Ellis: I spent the first 30 years of my life in the US, and I was heavily involved in the health care debates of Obama’s first term. When I moved to Canada in 2012, I knew I wanted to get involved politically on a similar level and I was looking for issues to get behind.

I’m fascinated by economics and have worked in finance, and I’m also a Millennial and living with the consequences of what we’ve been left by previous generations, so I’m keenly aware of how trends such as automation and outsourcing (aided by decades of neo-liberal policies) are reducing the value of labour on the market and driving a decoupling of wages from productivity.

In my quest for a way to address that issue, I stumbled across an article by former Conservative Senator Hugh Segal in which he explained a basic income. It piqued my interest, so I wrote to his office and he put me in touch with BICN, with whom I volunteer to this day.

I advocate for a basic income because I recognize that it makes both ethical and economic sense. An economy that is widely split between the haves and have-nots is bad for both classes; without sufficient demand from the consumer base, even the most successful capital-holder can’t earn on his or her investments. With the declining value of labour on the market, wages are no longer sufficient to get money into the hands of consumers. A basic income addresses that issue in the simplest, most effective, and most equitable fashion. Ethically speaking, of course, it’s perfectly aligned with Canadian values. We build a better society for all when we take care of each other. This is fundamental to the Canadian experience. Humans are a social species; taking care of each other has been the foundation of our success for thousands of years.

Benns: What about a basic income guarantee makes it a social justice issue? 

Ellis: Any labour market that is predicated on the threat of suffering for failure to work is inherently coercive – and when that market then fails to deliver sufficient jobs, we all share in the blame for the suffering those results. A basic income gives people real agency in their own lives, and real leverage when negotiating with employers. On top of that, one of the great virtues of capitalism is that it drives efficiency; however, one person’s efficiency is another person’s layoff slip. These are very real, very human costs that we all bear. Basic income is the key to building a truly consensual capitalism that allows us to retain the virtues of the market side of our economy while still looking after the human beings that are, after all, the reason for the whole thing.

A basic income also reprioritizes what we mean by “work.” As it stands, you’re only compensated for work the market values and that can deliver a profit for somebody. This means such essential and cherished human endeavours – parenting, leisure time with family and friends, engaging in art or play for the sheer joy of it, and so on – are tallied up as costs, not assets. These are the very heart of the human experience, and a basic income allows those who wish to contribute these essential assets to our society to do so without being punished for it.

Finally, I think there’s a huge mental health cost that our current structure imposes on our children. We’re creating a society that is adapted to constantly competing to take everything possible and to live in constant fear that it could, in turn, all be taken away. Kids go into deep debt to attend university for degrees that might not even get them a job, almost certainly not a job in the field they want, and all the while they know that the penalty for failure is grinding poverty and constant suffering. I don’t know what percentage of my peers suffer from crippling, daily anxiety, but it’s substantial. I refuse to believe that we simply need to accept constant fear and anxiety as the price of progress. I am so incredibly proud of our species. We are more than workers. We are more than consumers. And we need not live in fear.

Benns: The most common concern is about implementing a basic income guarantee is that too many of us would choose not to work. Why do you believe this won’t be the case?

Ellis: The simple answer is the evidence. Unpaid work is fundamental to the human experience. Hobbies, volunteer hours, church and community groups, raising families – that’s all work! It’s just not valued by the market because there’s no profit to it. But it’s valued by people, and so it gets done. Financial compensation is far from the only motivation for human endeavour. We already have several examples of a basic income being secured – the most relevant and most frequently cited in Canada is the “Mincome” pilot project in Dauphin, Manitoba – and the results routinely indicate that people either continue to work or choose to spend more time on valuable investments in the future such as education and child-rearing.

But let’s dive a little further on this one for a moment. When I was a kid, we had a rotary phone at my house. Today, my smartphone has more power than the entire Apollo project – all of NASA’s computational power, in my pocket! People in my generation view total automation as an inevitability. Maybe it will take a thousand years, maybe a hundred, but it’s coming. And when it does, what then? Are we going to have the machines assign us busy-work so we can keep earning paycheques to scrape out a minimum-wage living? We’re already seeing a huge decoupling between productivity and wages, we’re already seeing ten or twenty people being able to do the work that used to take thousands. In any rational society, the premise “less work that people need to do” would be a good thing and should free up people to pursue their own dreams. Instead, because we’ve tied survival to an outdated wage-based model, we get people “freed” from their careers and immediately forced to chase after whatever work remains, no matter how bad it is, just to stay alive. Why is that a smart arrangement? How does society benefit from that?

Benns: When you imagine Canadian life with this policy in place — say 10 years of the basic income guarantee — what does the country look like? How has it changed?

Ellis: Existing trends towards contract labour rather than traditional employment have greatly accelerated, as the precariousness that used to be associated with these more efficient models has been drastically reduced. Small businesses have flourished – a reliable supply of capital to the consumer base has created a much more viable environment for businesses to work within at the same time that freedom from the coercive need to work in highly demanding yet extremely underpaid positions has allowed individuals to go into business for themselves as entrepreneurs. The result is a dynamic local economy.

Public health outcomes have begun to improve sharply, as people are able to access preventative care and as they live without constant anxiety imposing a draining and damaging “fight or flight” mentality. As a result, health care costs have begun to swing downward, just as predicted by the health care organizations that led the way in recognizing a basic income as a crucial investment.

Political engagement has increased, as people feel more directly invested in the political and social system. Basic income is one of the few issues that unites the political spectrum (something that is already true). Political activism remains lively, but without the same sense of alienation and desperation that had for so long set upper and lower classes artificially against one another. Where so many for so long had seen only a ceiling, now there is a firm floor on which to stand for themselves – and the sky is the limit.

Basic income guarantee group in Kingston tackles issue one kitchen table at a time

Toni Pickard

Toni Pickard, coordinator of Kingston Action Group.

Roderick Benns recently interviewed Toni Pickard, coordinator of Kingston Action Group, which supports a basic income guarantee for Canadians.

BennsHow long has the Kingston Action Group for Basic Income Guarantee been around, and are there other social issues which you advocate for?

Pickard: In November of 2013, the co-founder of the group and I each invited a few people to an informal meeting with Rob Rainer to talk about his fledgling Basic Income Guarantee (BIG) Push campaign for basic income. The next month most of us reconvened to work in earnest to support his campaign. A core group of seven has been working steadily since then. Others have come and gone and we now have about 13 members. The name Kingston Action Group for BIG has evolved over time.

We’ve always focused uniquely on basic income and are too busy with that to think about working on other important issues that we support in spirit. We have two main goals:, to spread awareness and generate discussion and support with the aim of creating a grassroots movement for basic income; and to secure political support for the BIG concept.

BennsWhat have you noticed happening in the Kingston Region that gives you hope about a basic income guarantee? 

Pickard: We’ve been gratified to receive support and help from the Kingston community. We have some 100 people whom we update and sometimes ask for help. Most recently, for example, we’ve asked them to host ‘kitchen table talks’ in their homes so we can have in depth discussions of BIG with a few interested people at a time.

Most of us are long-time residents of this small city where overlapping circles ensure that word travels easily and fast. With the help of friends and acquaintances, we’ve reached out to and have been well received by, for example, various faith communities, organized labour organizations, continuing education groups, the francophone community, secondary school and university students and so on. In addition, here as elsewhere, coverage of basic income is increasing in all forms of media. We write and respond to letters, op-eds, interviews, etc. Interest in basic income ignites quickly as people hear of it, and small efforts on our part seem to generate unexpectedly large effects.

Benns: In what way do you try to get this on the agenda or in the thought processes of local politicians?

Pickard: To some extent perhaps it’s simply moxie on our part. We stay in contact with the presidents of the local riding associations and meet with our elected representatives. We bring written material with us, respond to the questions and arguments put to us. We might go two by two, setting up a series of meetings. Whenever we publish op-eds and letters, we see that our local politicians get copies. We sought the support of the MPP candidates in the Provincial election last year and received it from three of the four major party candidates. Most of our local politicians have shown a real readiness to take the feasibility and potential benefits of basic income seriously.

BennsDo you see a basic income guarantee as replacing other social programs eventually? If so, which ones? 

Pickard: The first question is a simple one. We definitely see basic income as a replacement for Provincial welfare programs. A main reason BIG is so badly needed is that our welfare programs are dysfunctional. They are humiliating, stingy, and altogether mean spirited; they create enormous work disincentives; they trap recipients in poverty. Everyone knows this. So far, governments have tried to remedy the problems by tinkering with program details. But tinkering can’t rescue fundamentally flawed programs. Basic income will not involve complex rules or the micromanagement of people’s lives; access and administration will be simple; there will be total privacy and dignity for recipients who won’t have to answer to any government employee for the way they live or use their money.

The second question is more complex. Which programs to replace depends first on having a full picture of the multiplicity of Federal and Provincial income support mechanisms in Canada today. We need to know the effects of closing/altering the terms of particular programs. There will surely be an ongoing need for health care, vision care, dental and drug benefits, mental health and addiction services, special assistance for people with physical or learning disabilities, etc. In addition it seems likely to be sensible to keep long established programs such as Employment Insurance and Canada Pension Plan, which have worked well in the past though recent changes may have undermined their efficacy so they are in need of improvement.

Which programs to close or keep can’t be discussed intelligently without access to mega data, expert analysis, and the power necessary to raise and reallocate revenues. It is Government which has those resources. Once the political will to implement BIG exists, the details will have to be worked out by Government, and whatever proposals ensue negotiated with the opposition.

The immediate and downstream benefits of creating a solid income floor for everyone warrant facing this complexity and need for intra-governmental cooperation. Once in place, Basic income can have transformative power. It can restore our democracy, revitalize our economy and recreate a functioning caring Canada.

Healthy Communities

Welfare must go — and should be replaced by a basic income guarantee: Basic Income Canada chair

Sheila resz

Roderick Benns recently interviewed Sheila Regehr, chair of the Basic Income Canada Network, about a basic income guarantee for Canadians. Benns: Based on what we’ve learned in Dauphin, Manitoba and in some international lessons, if the federal government were to try a basic income guarantee experiment again — perhaps in a few centres in Canada — what should they consider about their site … Read More »

Waterloo group works to make basic income guarantee part of the conversation

John Green

John Green had careers in both information technology and publishing before health reasons forced him to quit his work. In a G7 nation of spectacular wealth, the Waterloo resident suddenly found himself on disability benefits and living well below the poverty line. While Canada has regularly been ranked one of the top 10 places to lives in the world for … Read More »

McGill fellow believes a basic income guarantee needs other targeted social programs

Jurgen

Roderick Benns recently interviewed Jurgen De Wispelaere, a fellow at the Institute for Health and Social Policy at McGill University, Montreal, about a basic income guarantee. De Wispelaere is a founding editor of the journal Basic Income Studies, co-editor of three books, and author of dozens of peer-reviewed articles. He is the feature speaker at the University of Manitoba’s February symposium, ‘A Basic Income for Canada and … Read More »

A basic income guarantee would deal directly with poverty, says economics professor

Wayne Simpson

Roderick Benns recently interviewed Dr. Wayne Simpson, a Professor in the Department of Economics at the University of Manitoba, about a basic income guarantee. Dr. Simpson is a graduate of the University of Saskatchewan and the London School of Economics. He is one of the guest speakers at the University of Manitoba’s February symposium, ‘A Basic Income for Canada and Manitoba: Why Not?’ Benns: … Read More »

Important to extend discussion of basic income guarantee to a variety of political leaders, says university dean

University of Manitoba

Roderick Benns recently interviewed Dr. James Mulvale, dean of the Faculty of Social Work at the University of Manitoba, about a basic income guarantee. Dr. Mulvale is one of the guest speakers at the University of Manitoba’s February symposium, ‘A Basic Income for Canada and Manitoba: Why Not?’ Benns: Do you believe that a leaner bureaucracy is possible – including the eventual elimination … Read More »

Reductionist thinking causing us to lose sacred things to Canadian life: Zita Cobb

Zita cobb feature

Zita Cobb is the president of the Shorefast Foundation. Interviewed by Adam Kahane. Kahane: What can you tell me about yourself that would help me understand what you’re paying attention to? Cobb: I grew up in a fishing community on an island off the northeast coast of Newfoundland. For centuries, we’ve had a gift of place: a place that we love, … Read More »

People need stepping stones to move through the system with success: Janet Rossant

Rossant

Janet Rossant is the Chief of Research at the Hospital for Sick Children. Interviewed by Brenna Atnikov. Atnikov: What keeps you up at night? Rossant: With our aging population, we have to relook at how we deliver healthcare. Among other things, we have to develop a more integrated model that moves healthcare back into the community and into the home. … Read More »

Art Eggleton presses Justin Trudeau to adopt basic income guarantee if Liberals win

eggleton

It’s not something federal Liberal leader Justin Trudeau will be allowed to forget, if Senator Art Eggleton has his way. Early in 2014, at a Liberal policy convention, two resolutions were made and accepted by delegates that steer the Liberal Party of Canada toward a basic income guarantee for working-age Canadians. Eggleton says this is significant, and he has been … Read More »

Canadian senator says basic income guarantee must go mainstream

eggleton

One of the most outspoken Canadian politicians on inequality says it’s time to get 10 percent of Canadians taking action to support a basic income guarantee. Senator Art Eggleton says that inequality is pulling Canada down in too many ways. To make an impact, Eggleton tells Leaders and Legacies, “political will needs to be created.” He points out something that … Read More »

Welfare must go — and should be replaced by a basic income guarantee: Basic Income Canada chair

Sheila BIN

Sheial Regehr, chair of Basic Income Canada Network.

Roderick Benns recently interviewed Sheila Regehr, chair of the Basic Income Canada Network, about a basic income guarantee for Canadians.

BennsBased on what we’ve learned in Dauphin, Manitoba and in some international lessons, if the federal government were to try a basic income guarantee experiment again — perhaps in a few centres in Canada — what should they consider about their site choices?

Regehr: The most important part of this question is ‘what we’ve learned.’ We’ve learned that a basic income can actually support labour force participation rather than discourage it as some fear. Thanks to Dr. Evelyn Forget’s recent work on the Dauphin site, and to other international programs, we also know that a basic income can generate wide societal benefits for the community, such as better health, increased education and fewer accidents and injuries. Basic Income Canada Network doesn’t have a formal position on the need for new pilots. Pilots may be important to getting politicians on board. In the case of Prince Edward Island, there is an active basic income group and political leaders seem to be very interested, so that could lead to good things. Some people are wary that pilots can also be used as a stalling tactic. If there are to be pilots, what is most important is that we not just retest old assumptions but rather build on what we’ve learned. Because Canada already has forms of basic income for seniors and children, we can learn from those experiences as well.

BennsBroadly, in what way would you like to see this program set up in Canada? And, what might be eliminated to make it happen, such as welfare? 

Regehr: Basic Income Canada Network is open to exploring a range of possible options. Canada has experience with universal demogrant and negative income tax delivery methods, and a combination of the two. Seniors and children’s benefits both have a very broad-based benefit and elements geared to support those with lower incomes. There are several refundable tax credits that also support those with limited resources. Contrary to this pattern, welfare is rather a relic of earlier times that does not suit the 21st century. It is stigmatizing, and often punitive and harmful, so it is certainly the one program that must be effectively replaced. For others, it depends on the extent to which Canadians want significant overhaul or an option that builds around what already works.

BennsThere are even Conservative voices on the side of this issue. Why is that?

Regehr: Polls and research show that a basic income has broad appeal that does not fit neatly into traditional political categories. Many people feel that government should not interfere too much with people’s daily lives and that would include welfare bureaucracies. Some see the economic logic of putting money directly into the hands of people who need it as a way of making a free market more of a reality. A hard look at public finances shows how costly poverty is to a society so there is a strong business case for a basic income. Many people with a more conservative perspective have great concern for others who are less advantaged and recognize that old methods aren’t working. Across the political spectrum there is growing concern about the impact of extreme income inequalities and a precarious labour market.

BennsMore than half of Canadians seem to want this program, when you look at opinion polls. How can this broad support actually turn into meaningful political support to make it happen? 

Regehr: From BICN’s perspective, a key ingredient to making a basic income a reality is to generate as much informed public conversation as possible, and there are many ways to do that, including in an election year by attending candidates meetings and asking questions. There is rarely one route to policy change and the more places and ways that basic income is talked about the higher it will climb on the public agenda. There are signals that political leaders are listening so we need to keep the volume turned up.

BennsMedicare started in Canada when one province – Saskatchewan — decided to do things differently. Does this suggest we could see provincial leadership on this issue as likely we are to see federal? Are there any provinces, to your knowledge, that are amenable to these ideas?

Regehr: Yes, provincial leadership is a possibility. One way would be to go it alone. It might not be easy but John Stapleton has put forward a proposal showing that Ontario could do it. As mentioned before, there seems to be political interest in Prince Edward Island. There are other ways that provinces, territories and municipalities (especially large ones like Toronto, where the neighbourhood effects of income polarization are a huge challenge) can show leadership. In fact many have already done so, for example by creating poverty reduction strategies. It is in their interests to try to get the federal government on board with a basic income because they bear the responsibility and costs of health and other services that patch up the consequences of growing inequality and insecurity. Collectively, these other orders of government could have a powerful influence.

Waterloo group works to make basic income guarantee part of the conversation

John Green

John Green, coordinator of Basic Income Waterloo Region.

By Roderick Benns

John Green had careers in both information technology and publishing before health reasons forced him to quit his work. In a G7 nation of spectacular wealth, the Waterloo resident suddenly found himself on disability benefits and living well below the poverty line.

While Canada has regularly been ranked one of the top 10 places to lives in the world for 21 consecutive years by both the United Nations and the Economist Intelligence Unit, there is another, more troubling story that continues to unfold – the creeping distance between those who have and those who have not.

For people like Green, who always had an interest in inequality as a policy issue, it was now an issue that suddenly hit home. A year ago, Green mobilized an advocacy group called Basic Income Waterloo Region. Serving as coordinator of the organization, Green points out that it’s modelled after the Basic Income Canada Network, for which he also volunteers in a communications capacity.

In general, a basic income guarantee would ensure that no one in Canada would ever fall below the poverty line. The government would ‘top up’ anyone who didn’t meet this threshold, which is often pegged at $20,000 per year.

Green’s group works to build public support in Waterloo Region for a basic income guarantee policy (also called guaranteed annual income) at a grassroots level. His group works to engage with politicians in as many electoral districts as possible. He notes the regional groups, like Waterloo’s, are all generally sympathetic to BICN’s goals and messaging but are not controlled by the national group in any way, and nor do they speak for the national group.

Green says there is “general dissatisfaction with current government income-support programs and approaches to addressing poverty.”

“In the past year or so, I have met with people from many agencies and groups who work with people living in poverty, and I have been heartened by their generally positive responses to the idea of a basic income guarantee,” says Green.

When asked if a basic income guarantee would be likely to replace existing social programs, Green acknowledges some people get nervous about this idea.

He knows that some people would worry they might be worse off than before, if a basic income guarantee were to replace other forms of social benefits.

“My opinion is that many existing income-support programs — including welfare, Old Age Security, the GST rebate, the Canada Child Tax Benefit and many other tax credits — could safely be replaced with a well-designed basic income guarantee.”

Green says that the livable benefit level his group advocates for is roughly $20,000 per adult and $6000 per child. This “is higher than any existing income support program in Canada” that is currently paid.

“So recipients of existing programs would be better off under this kind of basic income guarantee.”

Green says they would be better off in two ways. First, the amount of income received would be greater than what they currently receive, and secondly “there would be far fewer, if any, rules or conditions to meet in order to qualify.” This would also reduce bureaucracy considerably.

One possible exception, he notes, is Employment Insurance, where the maximum benefit is slightly higher, but yet not everyone receives the maximum.

“And many unemployed people don’t qualify for EI benefits at all.”

Green says it would be good to see some statistics on typical EI benefits received before forming any strong opinions about replacing EI.

Other existing programs could have their income-support component replaced with the basic income guarantee, he says, but yet continue to provide specialized supports unique to each person’s needs.

“For example, disability programs could continue to provide the extra supports needed by people with disabilities, including extra financial support to cover expensive medications or assistive devices, while the basic income guarantee would provide income for regular living expenses.”

Green says the system would still need to be in place to help out with non-financial supports, such as affordable housing, employment supports, assistance in filing income tax returns, and drug, dental and vision coverage.

For Basic Income Waterloo Region, Green says they will continue to focus on networking and building alliances with anti-poverty groups and agencies in the region, “hoping that they will include basic income in the conversation when they engage with local politicians.”

McGill fellow believes a basic income guarantee needs other targeted social programs

Roderick Benns recently interviewed Jurgen De Wispelaere, a fellow at the Institute for Health and Social Policy at McGill University, Montreal, about a basic income guarantee. De Wispelaere is a founding editor of the journal Basic Income Studies, co-editor of three books, and author of dozens of peer-reviewed articles. He is the feature speaker at the University of Manitoba’s February symposium, ‘A Basic Income for Canada and Manitoba: Why Not?’

BennsIn what way can Canada draw from Nordic nations’ experiences when it comes to inequality? Out of Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Finland, what nation is on the right track these days when it comes to helpful social policy?

De Wispelaere: I am not an expert on Scandinavian social democratic policy regimes, but a few small points in response. The Nordic countries are very different from Canada and we have to be careful about learning lessons from other countries, or rather about thinking that we can apply models across very easily. In addition, the Nordic countries differ quite a lot internally as well, and have evolved quite differently in the last 10 years, so it all depends what aspect of social policy you are interested in. In terms of Basic Income Guarantee, the country to watch out for is Finland, where the discussion is most developed and active.

BennsIn what way would you try to convince someone who is on the conservative (right) side of politics about the merits of a basic income guarantee?

De Wispelaere: This is an interesting one. It’s often said that Basic Income Guarantee is a great policy because it has supporters across the political spectrum, but I would like to add a note of caution to that claim. Basic Income Guarantee, at the most general level, obscures so that we often end up talking about proposals that are quite different at the level of detailed design. Unsurprisingly, progressives and conservatives propose very different models in terms of costing or the funding source, implementation modalities, focus on individual or household-based, and most controversially which programs can be abolished once we institute a Basic Income. This disagreement is substantial, so the key question for Basic Income advocates is whether we go with a strategy of agreeing on the basics and working out the details as we go along, or whether instead we want to be very clear about our ‘red lines’ and if need be build a progressive coalition and leave the conservatives outside. Pragmatic politics is one thing, but too much compromise might eat into the very reasons we want the policy in the first place. Hard choices!

BennsDo you believe that a leaner bureaucracy is possible – including the eventual elimination of disability, welfare, and employment insurance with a basic income guarantee?

De Wispelaere: In a sense my response here continues on the previous point. The one argument that is often put forward to the conservative side is the so-called administrative savings argument, but this in my view is very much a red herring. There is no doubt that Basic Income is easier to administer than its selective counterparts, but what produces savings is not the extra implementation of a Basic Income but rather whether it replaces other policies. And here lies the rub: as said before, for progressives Basic Income will always be complemented with a wide range of targeted social programs so the actual administrative machinery is not being reduced as is sometimes suggested. Basic Income would never be able to fully replace disability assistance, welfare or unemployment insurance as you suggest – not for progressives at least. The sort of program that would really amount to a lot of savings has been proposed by some Conservatives (for instance by the controversial US social commentator Charles Murray), but is entirely unpalatable outside these circles. One more point on administration. The anti-bureaucracy perspective of many Basic Income advocates actually poses an interesting political problem: social history teaches us that once a policy becomes implemented, its administration constitutes one important interest group that protects the policy against political backlash; the “lean bureaucracy” argument may well be a recipe for reduced stability over time for Basic Income.