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Trudeau just green lit a ‘basic income’ for Canadians this week

Trudeau just green lit a ‘basic income’ for Canadians

in Federal/Health/Opinion by

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has just announced a basic income for Canadians this past week. Well, he didn’t call it that, and yet that’s exactly what happened – at least temporarily.

A basic income ensures everyone an income sufficient to meet basic needs and live with dignity, regardless of one’s work status.

Basic income, in Canada, would look similar to the Canada Child Benefit. That is, as wages increase the benefit declines, but it declines progressively – not dollar for dollar.

Roderick Benns, publisher.

In effect, children already get a basic income in Canada. So do seniors, in the form of old age security (OAS) and a guaranteed income supplement (GIS).

While there was $27 billion in direct support from the federal government for individuals in the wake of this COVID-19 pandemic, it was the new emergency care benefit of $10 billion that is garnering the most interest. This plan will provide income support to workers who must stay home and who don’t have access to paid sick leave – the thousands of part time and precarious workers who would especially have been devastated by the virus, had this package not been put in place.

The prime minister says that the money is to help pay for rent and groceries, to ensure Canadians stay healthy, and to stabilize the economy.

“No matter who you are or what you do, this is a time where you should be focused on your health, and that of your neighbors’, not whether you’re going to lose your job, not whether you’re going to run out of money for things like groceries and medication,” he said.

Trudeau’s linkage of health and well-being along with income stability is particularly refreshing. In doing so, the PM is acknowledging the decades of work done by Dr. Dennis Raphael of York University, and others, who have long argued that the living conditions that we experience is directly linked to our health outcomes.

If Trudeau can see how health and income connects in times of crisis, perhaps he can yet acknowledge that poverty is a slow crisis?

As Raphael has noted, Statistics Canada shows that “Canadian men in the lowest 20 per cent of the income distribution are 67 per cent more likely to die in any given year than the wealthiest 20 per cent. For women, the figure is 52 per cent more likely.”

The Ontario Basic Income Pilot was initiated by the Ontario government in 2017 in three areas – Hamilton region, Thunder Bay area, and Lindsay. About four thousand people were involved, with nearly 2,000 of them in Lindsay. It was set to run for three years. When the PC government was elected in the summer of 2018, it cancelled the program in one of its first legislative acts.

Panic or Planning?

The PM has opened the treasury in the short term and is spending considerably to do it – and this was certainly the right move, given the threat to society. He has already said there will be more to come during this unprecedented global crisis.

However, there’s no reason this had to be a matter of national panic when it could have been a matter of national planning. Parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page has said before that a basic income will cost $43 billion annually to implement across Canada. If we factor in provincial income assistance – and get rid of this inadequate cluster of systems – we’re down to $23 billion dollars a year, as Dr. Evelyn Forget has pointed out.

Incidentally, that’s what we pay every year to make the Canada Child Benefit happen – and not quite half the cost of both the OAS and GIS.

As COVID-19 now stalks the nation, let this pandemic be a catalyst for permanent action to stabilize the lives of millions of Canadians and create a healthier, more equitable Canada.

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Roderick Benns is the publisher of The Lindsay Advocate. He is the author of 'Basic Income: How a Canadian Movement Could Change the World,' and is also on the communications team of the Basic Income Canada Network. An award-winning author and journalist who grew up in Lindsay, Roderick has interviewed former Prime Ministers of Canada, Senators, and Mayors across Canada. He also wrote and published a series of books for youth about Canada's Prime Ministers as teens.

10 Comments

  1. trudeau is still not helping us seniors with any help –im a senior and have been trying to get some sort of financial asistance but to no avail city told me to not pay my rent and then they may help –SENIORS DONT COUNT-no matter how how much a person is strugling

  2. Seniors vote. This gives us an opportunity to gather like minded seniors to join forces to be heard by politicians. As long as Ford is empowered, things will never improve and years of increased social protections will be wiped out.

  3. How is this Basic Income? There is no direct payment to individuals, there is no specific amounts, and if you think increasing the dollar amounts in existing programs as basic income you are totally incorrect.
    I will also state that absolutely none of the stimulus is directed and people living below the poverty line. It’s simple expanding and loosening rules to existing programs to have others join the increasing numbers living below the poverty line.

  4. Basic Income was a complete failure in Finland where they performed as 2 year comprehensive study from 2018~2019. The reason is that participants became dependent on it rather than moved off it. Permanent Basic income would also be a failure. In fact, HuffingtonPost Canada published over half a dozen articles highlighting the virtues of Ontario’s cancelled Basic Income, and could not cite a single example of a participant who got off basic income. Virtually every participant cited how their life improved with more money, but never how they managed to get ahead with a plan to get off basic income. One example was of a photographer who quit her well paid day job so that she can become a freelance photographer full-time without pay, and another is a single mother Nurse who justified not working with Basic Income so that she can raise her son full-time. If anything Basic Income assured poverty for such participants forever.

  5. Paul, it’s not a real basic income…hence the ‘quotes’ in the headline. But there is new money. And it’s about the government realizing the power of direct cash transfers to individuals who will know what to do with the money for their own needs. And you’re right about it not being directed at people below the poverty line. Again, the basic income part was the prime minister’s linkage of health with income security, and then his willingness to send cash transfers. If he’s figuring that out for the middle class who are having to stay home from work, hopefully he can figure it out for the many people living below the poverty line, too.

    Douglas…. The Finnish experiment is not a good example. By the end of the experiment, the basic-income recipients were no more likely to get a job than those in the control group. But the fact that recipients were getting fewer conditional benefits than before make it difficult to draw conclusions about that result. Another issue with the Finland trial was that participants’ response rate to a government survey was extremely low — around 25%, on average. That gives the experiment an unacceptable level of uncertainty, according to researchers.

    I would encourage you to read some more about basic income with this excellent primer series put out by the Basic Income Canada Network. https://www.basicincomecanada.org/basic_income_primers

    • I’m 55 years old and on cpp disability living in poverty welfare makes more then me I have no under age kids how’s the government helping me plus I have to pay something out my pocket for medication

  6. This is misleading. It’s not a true basic income for all Canadians. It’s measure to help workers affected by the pandemic – as you’ve stated. A true basic income helps ALL people; the elderly, the disabled, the people already living in deep poverty. For example, me… I’m elderly, disabled and already living in deep poverty. How does Trudeau’s announcement help people like me? Maybe if I worked three precarious gig-jobs, I’d be eligible? Don’t call it a basic income when it’s not.

  7. Hi Suzanne. A careful reading will show I did not refer to it as a true basic income. That’s why basic income in the headline was in single parentheses. A true basic income, at least the kind tested in Canada beforehand and advocated for by the Basic Income Canada Network, does NOT help all people. It helps working age Canadians age 18-64, not already covered by things like the Canada Child Benefit and the Guaranteed Income Supplement for seniors. These already act as ‘basic income-like’ programs so we don’t need to invent anything new there. That’s not to say we don’t need to put more money into help for seniors — we most assuredly do to help people like yourself. However, basic income is typically understood to be for working age Canadians who have no real social safety net — not seniors who have an existing program. I will emphasize we need to do more for seniors though as I don’t think the existing system is adequate at all.

  8. This is not a basic income. Nor does it help a whole segment of the population. Those who work for themselves but now find themselves care givers, some do not qualify for help as they worked for themselves ( checked with government offices in Cornwall). Those who do not qualify for a supplement on OAP, but OAP and CPP is far less than the $2000/month. Those who do not have children under 18 but the kids are now unemployed and living at home. Make too much to qualify for a full GST payment? Well I have serious doubts that we’d qualify for any top up, yet we still pay mortgages, taxes, car loans etc which leaves us with little disposable income. Help for all Canadians? I think not!

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