When his parents left Holland for Canada, Gary H. J. Pluim was just 13 years old. His father was in the furniture business in Holland, but he watched his dad struggle in his adopted homeland. At one point his father developed symptoms of depression. All eight kids did what they could do and the older ones, including Pluim, got part time jobs to help out financially.
His father told Pluim to go to the welfare office to ask for a loan.
“He didn’t want to go on welfare – he just wanted the help a loan would give him,” Pluim tells Leaders and Legacies.
They told the young Pluim that his father had to come in himself, and that they “don’t do loans.”
“I was laughed out of the office,” Pluim says.
Eventually, his father got help from the local church with a loan, and Pluim says he never looked back.
Pluim grew up and went on to a 30-year banking career, then switched gears and worked for charities like World Vision and WaterCan (now WaterAid) for 22 years after that. When he thinks back to those early days in Canada, Pluim can’t help but think that a basic income guarantee policy would have really helped his family.
“I saw my father struggling, through no fault of his own. Many people get into situations through no thought of their own. Sometimes it’s mental health. Sometimes it’s other things.”
Pluim, an Ottawa resident, saw former Conservative Senator Hugh Segal about a year and a half ago on television, speaking about a basic income guarantee (also known as a negative income tax or a guaranteed annual income.) He was fascinated as Segal walked through the advantages of the policy, which typically means ensuring a person would never fall below a set threshold of income. The idea is to keep everyone above the poverty line – to have their basic needs met.
Pluim also felt disturbed to realize how much inequality has been growing in Canada over many years. The richest one per cent of Canadians took almost a third of all income gains from 1997 to 2007—the decade with the fastest-growing incomes in this generation, according to a 2010 study by Armine Yalnizyan.
“I was fascinated by what he (Segal) had to say, and it never left my mind. I would chat with others about it because it interested me so much.” Now, Pluim is seeing an increasing amount of discussion about a basic income guarantee happen across Canada and around the world. He’s even seeing a family connection.
Dr. Lisa Simon, who led the successful push for all Ontario health units to support basic income policy, is Pluim’s daughter-in-law. In the (alPHa) that she helped author, the association defined a basic income guarantee as a “cash transfer from government to citizens not tied to labour market participation,” enough to ensure “everyone an income sufficient to meet basic needs and live with dignity, regardless of work status…”
The resolution also points out that basic income “resembles income guarantees currently provided in Canada for seniors and children, which have contributed to health improvements in those age groups.”
Leaner bureaucracy, better health
As someone who worked in the financial services industry for most of his life, Pluim says he was first drawn to appreciating the idea of basic income as an “opportunity to eliminate a lot of bureaucracy.” Under almost all basic income models, at least welfare systems would be dismantled.
“If we can make this policy happen through the income tax return system it would be very efficient,” says Pluim, who believes strongly in free enterprise and entrepreneurialism.
Now, from the work that Dr. Simon has shared with him and from his subsequent reading, Pluim also recognizes the health benefits when there is financial stability in families’ lives.
He adds there has to be “incentives built in” for people to work, but he also doesn’t believe that will be a problem, pointing out that when people lose their job due to downsizing, they don’t stop looking for work just because they know Employment Insurance is coming.
“I think people want to work. I think people are hardwired to contribute.”
Pluim wants to urge politicians of all stripes to have a national discussion about a basic income guarantee policy.
“Someone needs to drive this. I really believe this generation can make the changes we need to make our society fairer.”
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 average people across the country, we are working for a more equitable Canada through advocacy, policy change, and the power of stories. If you are an individual and can support our campaign, please use the PayPal button on the front page of this news site or contact us here.