It was called a landmark social experiment in its time. From 1974 to 1979, the federal and provincial governments of Canada provided money to every person and family in Dauphin who were living below the poverty line.
It was researcher Evelyn Forget who revived interest in this experiment, after she spent time looking at the effects of what they called ‘Mincome’ (minimum income) and how it affected the lives of about 1,000 families.
Forget dug up the records from the period and found there were some significant benefits in the education and health sectors, such as an 8.5 percent drop in hospital visits, fewer emergency room visits, and less recorded incidents of domestic abuse. As well, less people sought treatment for mental health issues and more high school students continued on to finish Grade 12 to graduate.
Forget is an economist, professor in the Department of Community Health Sciences at the University of Manitoba, and Academic Director of the Manitoba Research Data Centre. In a recent interview with Leaders and Legacies, she says everything she has read and studied has led her to the conclusion that Canada would benefit from a basic income guarantee.
“I think removing some of the gaps and roadblocks in the current system and empowering people to make their own decisions is a very positive thing. Eliminating the waste of having very well trained social workers spending all their time trying to access basic income support for their clients, rather than doing something more positive can only be beneficial,” she says.
Forget notes that if the federal government wanted to revive interest in doing some pilot projects across Canada on this issue, there would need to be good federal-provincial cooperation.
This echoes recent comments made by federal Green Party leader Elizabeth May.
“The real problem in Canada is that income support is a provincial responsibility,” says Forget.
“If a basic income guarantee is offered federally, it needs to be made consistent with existing provincial income support schemes, unless we imagine that we can get all premiers and the feds to come to an agreement.”
She says one possibility might be to retain existing schemes, and use the basic income guarantee as a “top-up” in a way similar to that of the Child Tax Benefit.
“Over time, the transfers from the federal government used to support provincial schemes could be frozen…and the basic income guarantee enhanced — a very gradual replacement of existing schemes with the new program.”
Forget says this would also buy time to ensure that no group is disadvantaged by the basic income guarantee, such as people with disabilities.
“In general, I like the gradual approach and I think it is more consistent with Canadian policy-making than a wholesale replacement of one system by another.”
As for what towns, cities, or areas should be a part of a pilot project, Forget says there is much to consider for balance. She says the following things would need to be taken into account:
- A site or sites should be chosen that are broadly representative of Canada in terms of age, structure, and demography – not an old population or a young population, but representative.
- There should be an urban site and a small town site.
- The urban site should have a significant immigrant population
- Since First Nations people (both on and off reserve) are significantly more likely to be low income, then this should also be a consideration.
- A site should be chosen that has a representative job market — not purely resource-based or seasonal, but one with a balanced economy.
Setting up a program like a basic income guarantee is complex, Forget says, because there are a number of choices, all with implications “for costs as well as outcomes.”
“There is a very good reason to tie the income to individuals, because it empowers all members of a family. However, our current tax and transfer system is based on family income.”
She says in order to be consistent, Canada and the provinces would either have to make many changes in the current system or make a basic income guarantee dependent on family income.
Leaders and Legacies will conduct an ongoing campaign for the elimination of poverty in Canada, through this news program. From interviewing well-known Canadians, to researchers, to community support workers, to average people across the country, we will work tirelessly for a more equitable Canada through advocacy, policy change, and the power of stories.
If you are an organization and would like to speak to us about funding or participating in this campaign, contact us here. If you are an individual and can support our campaign, please use the PayPal button on the front page of this news site.