$20,000 per person: Activists push for guaranteed minimum income for Canadians

Posted on in Social Security Debates

TheGlobeandMail.com – News/National
Jun. 29 2014.   Benjamin Shingler Montreal

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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One Response to “$20,000 per person: Activists push for guaranteed minimum income for Canadians”

  1. As a middle class Canadian citizen, I take many things for granted while completely turning a blind eye to those Canadians who live in poverty and do not get the opportunities that I do. Having said this, every Canadian is said to be treated equally, however, how can this be with the inequality of incomes. If every Canadian got a minimum income of $20 000, there would no longer be an overwhelming amount of poverty. A controversy to the idea of a minimum income is that taxes would have to rise; this, however, isn’t necessarily true. Social welfare programs such as unemployment insurance, and disability payments would no longer be required (Engen, July 22, 2014). An argument that a conservative ideologist might make, as stated above, is that no one will work for their money, however, as we all know, in today’s society $20 000 annually is only barely enough to get you by. This would only equal out to about $1 600 a month or $800 every two weeks. How would Canada go about doing this? This decision is going to affect the population of Canadian Citizens who don’t get a chance to vote. Is it fair to vote to see that the Canadian citizens want when the population this will affect can’t vote anyway? We as Canadian citizens need to stand up for what is best for EVERYONE in Canada.

    An advantage to bringing in a minimum income would be that crimes associated with poverty would diminish. Another great benefit of a minimum income would be increasing the flow of money back into the economy. More people would be buying houses, food, and clothing. Giving everyone a minimum income allows Canadian Citizens to get their independence and freedom back. Whether people are struggling because of health problems, family problems, or bad luck, this gives everyone a fair chance to get back on their feet. Regardless whether your ideological view is liberal which might agree with this notion more or conservative which might debate against it, it isn’t just beneficial to the working class under the poverty line but for those seniors who are struggling to survive but can no longer work. As a current social work student I would like to see these changes and help lessen poverty.

    Engen, M. (2014, July 22). Do You Support A Guaranteed Minimum Income For Canadians? Retrieved October 27, 2014.

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