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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 of disability, welfare, and employment insurance with a basic income guarantee?  

Mulvale: In principle, Basic Income would be simpler to administer than our current complicated, means-and-needs-tested array of income assistance programs (especially ‘last resort’ programs such as social assistance at the provincial level). We currently have income-tested, Basic-income-like payments determined through our income tax returns (Guaranteed Income Supplement for seniors, GST/PST rebate, Working Income Tax Benefit, and the Canada Child Tax Benefit).

I think that we have to evolve in a step by step fashion towards a more comprehensive and generous guaranteed income ‘architecture’ that is a federal-provincial partnership. It may be possible, over time, to reduce and perhaps eventually eliminate our reliance on disability and unemployment benefits. But in getting from here to there, we must not leave people worse off in the meantime. And we also must have flexible benefit programs that can recognize special needs — for example the extra income support that persons with disabilities might need for assistive devices, accessible transportation, and so on.

An advantage of Basic Income is that it can move us away from intrusive and stigmatizing ‘welfare policing.’ At the same time, better income support does not mean that we can eliminate necessary services for those who need social support – such as child and family programs, mental health and addiction services and social housing programs.

Benns: From your perspective and background, what makes a basic income guarantee so attractive as a policy option?

Mulvale: Its relative simplicity and efficiency, as already mentioned. Its recognition of human freedom and the right to make individual life choices. Its potential to move us away from economic growth and the creation of paid jobs as the primary policy option that is supposed to ensure economic security for all. This is a pre-requisite if we are to move towards a ‘steady state’ and an ecologically sustainable economy.

Benns: Why are most politicians so reticent to touch this issue and how can we shift perspectives?

Mulvale: I think that politicians of a variety of political stripes are giving serious thought to the basic income approach. The federal Green Party under Elizabeth May, former Conservative Senator Hugh Segal, Liberal Senator Art Eggleton, Prince Edward Island Liberal Premier Robert Ghiz, the federal Liberal Party – through two policy resolutions at its most recent convention – and the Progressive Conservative Leader of the Opposition in Manitoba. There is also the Quebec Minister of Social Solidarity, François Blais, who sees Basic Income as at least a longer-term goal.  The basic income approach has also been supported by the Conference Board of Canada in some of its publications.

It seems to me that we must foster and extend these discussions in various political circles and with various political leaders.

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