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Friday, September 9, 2016
CANADA - BASIC INCOME UPDATE
Volume 50, Issue 3: Summer 2016
There are few ideas that elicit such divided reactions on both the Left and the Right as Basic Income (BI), the focus of this issue of Canadian Dimension. Passions are running particularly high in Canada at the moment, with governments in the two largest provinces proposing to put some form of BI on trial in the new few years, in addition to the major BI initiatives afoot around the world.
Few will argue there is no need for fundamental reform of Canadian social assistance and income security programs. One-in-five Canadian children live in poverty, a rate that is double in Indigenous communities. More than one million Canadians suffer malnutrition because they can’t afford basic groceries. Despite our relative wealth, the poverty rate here is slightly higher than the average of countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, yet public social spending is lower than the OECD average (18.3 vs. 21.9 per cent of GDP).
Is a basic income model the key to ending poverty in Canada and elsewhere? Some believe it is, while others suspect the current debate is an attempt by neoliberal forces to sell Canadians a Trojan Horse, a subterfuge for dismantling the welfare state under the cover of small but universal monthly cheques. They argue that neoliberal governments cannot be trusted to implement any BI program that would respond to the needs of working people and the poor. This is no doubt true. However, as the concept of basic income is about to get its most intensive airing in decades, the Canadian Left has a responsibility to set out its own vision of what a progressive approach to basic income would entail.
If a basic income is part of a true strategy to eliminate destitution, it will not be cheap. CD believes that any BI must involve a significant increase in public resources allocated to those living in poverty. The idea that severe destitution can be eliminated at no cost, or financed solely through administrative cost savings or budget shuffling, is an illusion. It will require a significant redistribution of wealth financed principally by a truly progressive income tax, higher corporate taxes and a fiscal system that prohibits the tax avoidance afforded by domestic tax shelters and offshore tax havens.