Activists push for guaranteed minimum income for Canadians

A group of academics and activists is trying to drum up interest in an ambitious plan to provide every Canadian with a guaranteed minimum level of income — whether or not they have a job.

Rob Rainer, a campaign director for the Basic Income Canada Network, envisions a country where everyone is assured a minimum of $20,000 annually to make ends meet.

"For many of us, we think the goal is no one should be living in poverty," Rainer said at a conference on the issue over the weekend at McGill University.

"That's essentially what we're striving to achieve."

More than 100 speakers and participants were on hand for the conference, which focused on the merits of a guaranteed minimum income that would either replace or exist alongside existing social programs.

The idea is hardly new — the Canadian and Manitoba government conducted an experiment with the issue in the 1970s — but it has enjoyed a resurgence lately.

Switzerland is expected to hold a non-binding referendum this fall on whether to guarantee every citizen an annual income of Cdn $35,900.

And in the United Sates, the idea has supporters on both sides of the political spectrum.

Proponents on the left argue it represents an opportunity for greater redistribution of wealth, while those on the right see it as a chance to cut back on bureaucracy and return control to people's lives.

The two sides disagree, however, on whether there would be accompanying tax hikes and whether other social programs would remain place.

Almaz Zelleke, a professor at New York University, said guaranteed income has rarely had this much attention in the United States since President Richard Nixon tried to introduce such a program for families in the 1960s. That effort was ultimately thwarted by Congress.

At the conference, Zelleke gave a presentation laying out how a guaranteed income could be offset by taxes and work from a practical, fiscal standpoint. But even she admitted it would be a challenge to get such a plan on the agenda in Washington, D.C.

"To be very honest, it's not on the agenda of any mainstream political party in the United States," she said in an interview, but added a recent surge in media attention has, helpfully, "generated discussion among people who understand that there are problems with the welfare state."

In Canada, the town of Dauphin, Man., was famously the subject of a government pilot project where residents were provided with a guaranteed minimum income from 1974-1978.

The goal of the program, which cost $17 million, was to find out whether providing extra money directly to residents below a certain household income level would make for effective social policy.

The community's overall health improved and hospital rates declined during the period, according to a 2010 study by Evelyn Forget, a professor at the University of Manitoba.

Former Conservative senator Hugh Segal, who officially resigned from his post this month, argued for years in favour of the idea, saying it would provide more effective services at a reduced cost.

Quebec's new minister of employment and social solidarity was also once a prominent advocate.

Francois Blais, a former political science professor, published a book in 2002 called "Ending Poverty: A Basic Income for All Canadians," though Philippe Couillard's Liberal government has made no commitments on the issue.

At the federal level, Rainer conceded it's far from the agenda of the current Conservative government, but said there's a "little bit of traction" among opposition parties.

Liberal Party delegates passed two resolutions related to guaranteed minimum income at a meeting in Montreal this year — a move Rainer called "pretty significant."

The Green Party also endorses the notion in its party platform.

"The idea is not new, it's not really radical," Rainer said, pointing out that seniors and families with children receive a form of guaranteed income from the government.

"Where it does become more radical is when you get into the area of the working age population, and the idea that people should receive some income whether they are in the labour market or not. That's a fairly radical idea in our culture, because most of us were brought up to believe that in order to survive you have to work."

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  1. Richard posted on 06/29/2014 09:48 PM
    A guaranteed income whether you have a job or not.
    And who is going to pay for this? Oh right...Those of us who have jobs
    1. Mario Perron posted on 06/30/2014 09:44 AM
      @Richard Hi Richard,
      I've heard of this plan before and the extent of it it is quite intensive and deeply thought-out.
      Who pays for this? Yes, tax-payers do. Where does the money come from, well that's a different story altogether...

      Imagine that with a guaranteed minimum income for all adults, the government can eliminate welfare and unemployment insurance, along with the administrations that maintain them.

      There are surely many "free" social programs that could be modified to include small fees and many more that could be tied directly to income tax breaks, dependent on usage. But that is another kettle of fish...

      The government can implement staggered tax programs targeted at higher income people, because they get a guaranteed amount of $ anyway, so it can be reclaimed from those less in need... thus the incentive to work is still there. Not to be cynical, but those who don't want to work in the current system, find a way to survive on social welfare, etc. So we implement a simpler system, that allows for less costly administrations.

      How could this potentially affect other programs like health and education? Medicare can switch it's focus to more severe issues and people could be asked to pay for the wasteful stuff, like going to the doctor, because we have a cold. The money saved there, can also be pushed back into educating the public on improving their health with a healthier lifestyle.
      Education can also be changed dramatically... for example, no more subsidies for post-secondary education... tax incentives tied to achieving success in higher-education, sure, but no more subsidies. As you know, a better educated populations tend to produce more... more access to higher education can only lead to more invention and advancements.

      This seemingly socialistic plan is actually a very capitalistic idea. This puts far more money in circulation and allows people to invest in their, and our futures. More flowing money means more entrepreneurs with some freedom to develop new ideas and businesses... the growth potential is wonderful!

      I have always thought this is a great plan of action and would strongly endorse and support it!
    2. David posted on 06/30/2014 11:12 AM
      @Richard Yeah, you're lucky to have one, maybe tomorrow you won't.

      I agree 100% with the activists.
  2. Andrew posted on 06/30/2014 01:00 AM
    And how about only increasing the taxes of the upper class seeing as the middle and lower classes(above 20k income families) would suffer greatly from this?
    1. Richard posted on 07/03/2014 09:32 PM
      @Andrew Or how about we make things truly fair and have a flat tax rate...Say 20% no matter how much you make? That would be fair to everyone
  3. Maki posted on 06/30/2014 06:32 AM
    If this goes through, I will quit my 70 000 $ job. Because I give 20 000 $ in taxes every year. I will sit on my ass and collect the 20 0000$. Screw that. The middle class gets screwed royally. Well end up paying for the majority. Bad idea.
    1. Luc posted on 06/30/2014 12:52 PM
      @Maki And give up 50k$ a year? Seems like you're bad with numbers.
  4. Mike d posted on 06/30/2014 08:54 AM
    What a stupid idea. Hey here is a good idea get a JOB. In the USA now half the people work and half do not. It is impossible to keep paying people to do nothing. By paying people to do nothing you take away all their initiative and will create generations of lazy people. Stop the nonsense of money for nothing. We already have a large group of people that collect money from the Feds and look how badly their communities are. Do not waste 1 more dollar thinking about this stupid idea!
    1. Kat posted on 06/30/2014 02:27 PM
      @Mike d Agree with you and Maki. Not only having to pay over 20,000 K in taxes but having to do over 60 hours a week every week no vacation and to give a guaranteed salary to someone to sit on their ass???

      Which academics and activists came up with this - the ones wearing a red square? I guess they really are use to a free ride and want it to keep on going.
  5. Adam posted on 07/07/2014 08:27 AM
    I admit my political leanings tend to be more right than left wing. However, I see the pros and cons of this program.

    Amazon and countless other companies are offering to buy their employees out so instead of getting someone who is there for a pay check, they get people who really want to be there. Let's be fair here, who hasn't hated their job at one point or another? This guaranteed income could lead to a more productive society over all; just think about it like the following.

    Right now only a certain percentage of the population is doing what they want for a living. If people know they will have a guaranteed income they will feel free to switch jobs, which means they'll be happier at work. Happier workers are more productive workers, which is good for everyone. Who really wants to do OT if they hate their jobs? I can see carrier counselors, and schools loving this idea since they will get more people looking for new training.

    Yes a small percentage will sit on their duffs all day and not look for a job. News flash a load of people already do this with welfare, all we're doing is increasing the amount. The ones who smoke/do drugs all day, they'll keep doing it. Some people might even go get treatment so they can hold a job because now they can afford treatment. Is that a downside more people entering the workforce instead of living on the fringes of society because of mental problems?

    The right wing part of me hates the idea of increasing taxes. Well I see a prime target; hit the top 10% of society with massive taxes to support this program. Why do I say the top 10% over the 1%, because no one likes to be singled out, and I can see deals being cut to avoid someone or some company being considered a member of the 1% club.

    I can see a lot of people opposing this idea, and I see where you are coming from.
    The fact of the matter is with robotics, and computers. The amount of labour that will be required to keep us fed, housed, and clothed is going down, and we need to figure a way to keep these people from ending up on the street because they can't find jobs because there are no jobs to be filled. Heck how many companies right now officially or unofficially won't touch you if you don't have a job?

    Before you say they are bums, or "why should my taxes go towards this?", well remember right now you have a job. You have food on your table, a roof over your head. For all the safety nets in the world, they do run out. This system wouldn't run out, and with any luck you won't need it. However, if you do, isn't it nice that it's there?
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