One of Canada’s most well-known inequality fighters, Senator Art Eggleton, inspired members of the Ontario Basic Income Network recently who were in Lindsay for their annual general meeting.
In his opening remarks, Eggleton wondered aloud if Lindsay would become known as “the Dauphin, Manitoba of this decade.”
Dauphin was a small town in Manitoba which was chosen for a program called ‘Mincome’ (minimum income) in the 1970s, which helped establish a reliable minimum income for about a third of the people who lived there.
There were a number of positive outcomes from the data that researcher Dr. Evelyn Forget uncovered many years later, including reduced crime, less hospital visits, and a return to school for many young people. That ability to measure community effect was possible because Dauphin was smaller and self-contained, much like Lindsay.
At St. Andrews Church in downtown Lindsay, Eggleton told advocates there were three major reasons to support basic income – the persistence of poverty, inequality, and the changing nature of labour.
Persistence of Poverty
The senator pointed out that one in seven Canadians are still living in poverty and almost five million people – or 12.5 per cent – experience food insecurity.
Eggleton says basic income is on the “redistribution end” and it’s also important to catch people on the “pre-distribution” end, with a better minimum wage and better labour standards, both things the Ontario government has tackled.
“I applaud the premier (Kathleen Wynne) for doing this work on both ends,” he says.
Eggleton calls what we currently do to help people in poverty “a broken system.”
“It costs $30 billion to our economy and we just can’t afford to have poverty any longer.”
Eggleton told advocates that over the last three decades “people have been spread further and further apart in this country.”
On average, he notes the top CEOs of Canada make $9.2 million. Canadian society is becoming more unequal, with 20 per cent of the population controlling more than 68 per cent of the wealth.
The senator points to Leaside, a Toronto neighbourhood where the child poverty rate is just four per cent. A few kilometres away in neighbouring Thorncliffe Park, the child poverty rate sits at 56 per cent.
There’s also a 21-year difference in life expectancy between those neighbourhoods.
“Poverty is creating more polarization between rich and poor and we need to share our prosperity better,” he says.
The senator notes that Canada’s GDP is higher than it has ever been, “but it’s mainly going to higher income earners.”
Quoting his long-time ally in the senate, Hugh Segal, Eggleton told the crowd that right now “we don’t fight poverty, we institutionalize it.”
Changes in Labour
The Canadian jobs landscape is scarcely recognizable from a few decades ago, with the rise of both precarious work (jobs that are part-time, contract, or temporary, often without benefits) and the parallel rise of automation.
Citing the Mowat Institute, the senator points out that 42 per cent of existing jobs in this country are under threat from automation.
“It is the largest economic transformation in human history.”
Eggleton says there is no doubt in his mind that this is creating a lot of stress and anxiety in our society.
“Basic income isn’t the only answer, because we still need supportive services, like employment training and education – but it’s a great start to do things differently,” he says.
The senator says there is still a very strong work ethic in Canada, but notes that work doesn’t have to mean paid work.
He said people caring for older family members, raising children, and volunteering community time are all “legitimate” and we should “respect that contribution.”
“Most people want to work but people should not have to worry about the basic necessities of life,” he told advocates.
He also added that Canadian labour councils should be getting on board, given the rise of automation.
“I think it’s in the interest of labour to take a second look at basic income.”