Home » Basic Income/Healthy Communities » Whether you’re left or right, Hugh Segal believes a basic income guarantee just makes good sense

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

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.”






  1. Mr Segal,
    Why did you retire? We need you more than ever.
    We need your intelligent conservatism, not the ideological, divisive, ultra-partisan Reform-Republican we are stuck with right now.

    • Someone please beg Hugh Segal to form a committee to get this job done. I know the NDP would accept this idea. I can imagine the Liberals would as well. Greens have already come out in favour.

      Save the country, if people can’t see what is happening to our way of life they are blind. A 7% unemployment rate is so misleading I can barely type it. It would be so much larger if the “self-employed, the discouraged, the families living in their parents basements” were counted. The numbers of bankruptcies of seniors is riding rapidly as they try to help their children keep their lives together. Don’t spend any time blaming anyone, just act, act now. The jobs are gone offshore, the resources have been taken over by foreigners and all have lost environmental integrity because of the unethical companies. There is nothing left unless we start value-adding to raw materials here but there seems to be no political will to do that. Please act now.

  2. While there are many benefits of a guaranteed basic income, the weakness is that it may act as a disincentive for the able-bodied to work, and could lead to a discordant society of makers and takers. In contrast, the job guarantee encourages people to work and therefor reduces the potential for an inflationary spiral, as well as taxpayer resistance to funding the program.

    Please note that JG work is completely voluntary and the JG does not preempt other programs such as UIC, welfare etc. Many prefer to work and contribute to society and they should have that choice which is what the JG provides.

    For a more detailed discussion and comparison of the two proposals, you may wish to google

    Job Guarantee vs Guaranteed Basic Income


    Additional background at:
    Google “Modern Monetary Theory in Canada”

    • When this type of project was used in the 70’s, it showed great gains in employment, high school graduations. When I hear the words ” They will sit around and not work” I don’t think you’ll see big numbers going that way. Once people feel as thought they are apart of something, they normally blend in.

      Most people look at those on welfare and turn the corner, this type of program will make huge changes on people and how they live and the way people view them as members of society.

  3. Roderick Benns

    Thanks for your comments, Larry. We’ll have more to say about this issue in the coming weeks. Thanks for reading and taking the time to write

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