Commentary

Canada Could be the First Country to Eliminate Poverty

A guaranteed basic income could be a pathway to eliminate poverty in Canada.

By Nicole Smith
Published May 29, 2018

Last Thursday, May 24 at McMaster University was the start of the 17th annual North American Basic Income Guarantee (NABIG) Congress.

"Basic income is a defining issue for our time, an antidote to the path of rising inequality, employment insecurity and social unrest, not forgetting automation is also taking our jobs, so it's no wonder support is growing," says Sheila Regehr, chair of the Basic Income Canada Network.

NABIG is a joint endeavour of the Basic Income Canada Network (BICN) and the United States Basic Income Guarantee Network. The 2018 Congress is organized in collaboration with McMaster University and the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction (HRPR)... Tom Cooper, director of HRPR (says,) "Some of the local basic income participants will be included among the speakers at the 2018 Congress so attendees will hear first hand how basic income is improving their lives already."

The talk I attended this first evening of the conference had a stellar panel of "national public champions" of basic income: Canadian Senator and former Toronto mayor Art Eggleton; economist and NDP leader in Parliament Guy Caron; Manitoba Mincome researcher and population health expert, Dr. Evelyn Forget; BICN chairperson, Sheila Regehr; and candidate for Governor of Maryland, Ian Schlakman.

Each panelist was genuine, charming, warm, and passionate on the implementation of Basic Income. They were frequently interrupted by wild bursts of enthusiastic applause from the audience, which included a number of candidates for provincial office.

I live-tweeted quite a bit of the event so referred to my tweets as notes of some significant points along the way.

A notable difference between the approach of the American candidate for governor, Ian Schlakman and the Canadian panelists was that Ian was adamant Basic Income (BI) should be adopted universally and that the United States has the means. However, the Canadians all said that because of our tax laws, Medicare, social net, and other different conditions, BI should be for all who need it, unconditional but not universal, and that taxes would be far too high if it were universal.

I couldn't help but reflect on the crisis level of the city Ian kept referencing, Baltimore, and my memories from attending a conference there a few years ago. That is a city that desperately needs a basic income.

One woman in the audience asked if we could create enough affordable housing at the same time as establishing BI so housing doesn't keep moving even more out of reach. Responses: The new National Housing Strategy is one important step toward this. Also, as time goes on and enough people are on BI, we will see a dramatic reduction in health care costs that are too high now because of lack of preventative care and other negative outcomes because of poverty conditions. Other costs will go down as well and governments can build in incentives to discourage abuse of BI by driving up the housing market.

In response to a question about what will need to be taken away to provide BI, the reply was only existing federal assistance programs need to be replaced. Guy Caron cautioned against reducing provincial assistance. All warned that incrementalism does not work well - in fact, it has clearly failed in the US.

We have already introduced a sort of BI for seniors and families, and in Quebec for the differently abled. It become harder and harder to meet the needs of the residual population if incrementalism goes on, and we have to be careful not to paint ourselves into a corner. Forward momentum must be maintained - removing conditions, shifting the paradigm, and getting rid of the old system.

All evidence points to people not quitting working if they have BI. In fact some work more. When women for example work less, it is in favour of laudable priorities and only very small amount less overall. They all work differently and there is more room for creativity.

Guy Caron: "Conservatives should be in favour of BI because it gives people choice and freedom." It was noted the question often comes from men, who often seem more worried someone else isn't going to pull their weight. Women, never having been paid for most of the work we do, don't tend to worry about this but are more excited by the possibilities of what they could do provided with a BI.

After discussing briefly how to build up political will in a variety of ways, including creating consensus about exactly what we all want in a BI model, and considering beginning at a provincial level, as Medicare began in Saskatchewan, Laura Babcock asked each panelist to close with a kind of sound bite to inspire us. We heard panelists say:

I left feeling inspired and exhilarated. I believe we can accomplish this together as Canadians if we all decide we are ready to end poverty.


Editor's Note: Nicole Smith is a registered candidate for Ward 2 in the upcoming October 22, 2018 municipal election. You can see the official list of registered candidates on the City of Hamilton's Nominated Candidates for Mayor and Ward Councillor web page.

Raise the Hammer has a longstanding policy of not endorsing candidates, and this article should not be regarded as an editorial endorsement of the author. However, all candidates are welcome to submit articles for publication. We will accept any submission that does not violate our submission guidelines. Raise the Hammer is a free, volunteer-run publication that does not charge money for access to content and does not receive any revenue of any kind, including for commercial or political advertising.

Nicole Smith is a registered candidate for Ward 2 in the October 22, 2018 municipal election.

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By LeeEdwardMcIlmoyle (registered) - website | Posted May 30, 2018 at 06:36:26

"We need to stop considering people as disposable." I may have to have this tattooed on my forehead someday. Save me a LOT of time explaining myself.

Great article, Nicole.

So, without drawing you out on what you'd like to do about it if you get elected to office, but have you seen any BI model proposals that you recommend people check out?

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