Canada’s three main parties pledged in 1989 to end child poverty before the year 2000, a failed promise that today many are lamenting. But federal Green Party leader Elizabeth May says the answer is not to focus on children, but poor people overall.
“We can’t eliminate child poverty if the parents are poor.”
Among the various ways of ensuring a basic income guarantee, the Green Party of Canada believes the best policy is a negative income tax, or Guaranteed Livable Income.
In an interview with Leaders and Legacies, May points out the Green Party platform calls for this approach, which could “eliminate poverty and allow social services to concentrate on problems of mental health and addiction.”
The Green platform would provide a regular payment to every Canadian without regard to a needs test, with the level of the payment “regionally set at a level above poverty, but at a bare subsistence level to encourage additional income generation.”
“We believe that we’ll need to have negotiations, federally and provincially, and that many other programs can then be wrapped up. We’ll no longer need all the various types of welfare programs” that all provinces have in varying degrees, she says.
May says her party believes that no one should be taxed on income until they (as an individual) earn more than $20,000.
As for paying for such a program, May says the Green platform declares that eliminating poverty while supporting healthy communities “will pay for itself in reduced health care costs, as poverty is the single largest determinant of ill health.”
A reduction in crime would also see great savings, according to the Green’s policy planks.
May believes the best strategy for seeing some form of guaranteed liveable income is for more public awareness by taking the time to have conversations across the country.
“It’s become too acceptable to shrug it off. It will be more supported if people found out why it works and why it makes sense for the economy.”
May says she is “grateful” that retired Conservative Senator Hugh Segal is talking about this, which helps illustrate that a guaranteed income is not just policy for the ‘left.’
“I think it’s important for it to be considered good policy across the country,” says May, regardless of political affiliation.
When May reflects on the Green’s poverty policy seminar in 2007, she recalls connecting with some of the original researchers who worked on the Dauphin, Manitoba guaranteed annual income experiment.
In Dauphin, from 1974 to 1979, the federal and provincial governments provided money to every person and family in Dauphin who were below the poverty line. For a family of five, payments equalled about $18,000 a year in today’s dollars.
Years later, Evelyn Forget, a professor in the Department of Community Health Sciences at the University of Manitoba, took a second look at those results. She found there was only a slight decline in work – mostly among mothers, who made the choice to stay home with their children longer. She also found that young people chose to stay in school longer.
“It was clear that people seized the opportunity to go back to school and improve their skills,” says May of the research.
“The evidence was quite reassuring,” and the fear that people “would just become permanently unemployed” ended up being unfounded.
“It just didn’t happen. People saw it as an opportunity to improve their education and get ahead. It wasn’t shame-based – it was simply a very good approach to improving the health of a society,” says May.
May says any approach that raises awareness on a consistent basis should be welcome. That could be pilot projects, conversations in parliament, and conversations through the media.
“I think this is something that requires federal-provincial collaboration. So many of the programs that put Band-Aids on poverty cost this nation a lot at both levels. We’d be much better off to have a national strategy.”
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