Basic Income

The Ontario government has committed to test the idea of a basic income. Over the next week or so Hugh Segal will release a discussion paper intended to guide the experiment and that will be followed by public consultations.

The idea of unconditional income has a long history with supporters and detractors from both the right and the left. That it is back now reflects the growing realization that the evolution of our welfare state has not kept pace with demographic and economic change and particularly with the transformation of our labour market and the increasing precariousness of work.

For too long, policy makers viewed social programs as a drag on the economy rather than as essential to it, and focused on lowering expectations, containing costs, targeting ever more narrowly, privatizing wherever possible, placing the burden of austerity squarely on the backs of the most vulnerable. While other countries were adapting their welfare state to changing circumstances, we were offering less of the same.

The consultations and government’s willingness to take the idea on is of course rife with risk – but it is an important and long overdue opportunity to re-imagine social and labour market policy, to put equality and social justice at the centre of the policy agenda.

We have an opportunity to ask how basic income, tax and labour policy, and social services can work together to ensure that all Ontarians have access to the essentials, that all can live in dignity regardless of job status, and that all have adequate income so none need live in poverty.

Trish Hennessy who heads up CCPA Ontario and  I asked some of our top social policy thinkers to weigh in here.
Our Star op-ed is here.


5 Responses to “Basic Income”
  1. Robert White says:

    Neoliberalism’s last gasp for air under a monetary regime of Quantitative Easing-QE, and a negative interest rate policy-NIRP, is wholeheartedly anathema to the corporate state in practice
    over the last three decades. There is no possible way that the Government of CANADA, or the provincial governments, can institute a basic income for the systemically so-called ‘poor’ in Canadian society when all the disposable income gains of working class Canadians, apart from the ruling classes, have gone to the ruling one per cent corporatists via multinational agreements, and current Canadian taxation legislation. Furthermore, under liberal policy in Ontario the government of the day cannot even balance their books without selling off taxpayer owned assets such as Hydro-One infrastructure. Clearly, policy makers in both legislatures only pay lip service to these lofty unreachable goals when elections approach every four years. In the last 40 years liberal governance has run up impossible deficits in Ontario whilst increasing levels of poverty for Ontario residents, taxpayers, and the working class. Only Ivory Tower intellectuals that are removed from experience of unemployment seem to come up with these lofty notions of returning a fraction of the disposable income losses that Canadians have experienced over the last 40 years back to working class Canadians come election time. Clearly, it is time for liberal policy makers to realize that the indentured into servitude no longer buy the rhetoric given that it never changes.

    Behavioural assessment of policy makers leads us all to conclude that the best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour. After 40 years of the same old lines nearing election most of us can see the systemic patterns and failed goals trotted out annually by the policy wonks that never seem to be unemployed.

    • Mark Hammer says:

      I get, and appreciate, the cynicism you express, and the disappointment you feel. At the same time, public interest in alleviating poverty has never really gone away. Over history, and across jurisdictions, a variety of strategies have been tried, and clearly many of them haven’t worked out as effectively or inexpensively as hoped.

      So if you’re not content with what has been done in the past, maybe it’s time to try something a little different? Alex and Trish have not painted the alternative as a no-brainer. Clearly, there are some tough challenges that come with this strategy: defining the “deserving”, defining what sort of supplement would be appropriate and sustainable, how it would/could be administered, and not least, how to communicate it without fomenting hatred of the poor by those just above the threshold.

      And for the record, you’d be surprised by how many “ivory tower” types have intimate knowledge of unemployment and poverty.

  2. Ron Waller says:

    This policy initiative has got to be the biggest farce I’ve ever witnessed in Canadian politics. And I’ve seen some doozies.

    The McGuinty/Wynne government has been slashing benefits for people on “Ontario Works” and disability since they came to power. They have cut things like eye care and the community start up benefit. Payments have been eroded by inflation. Probably half the people on welfare and disability are making some kind of “overpayments” back to the system. They have been opening up the cracks in the system a lot wider than Harris ever did. It’s virtually impossible to get on disability these days. What they have done is absolutely shameful. But obviously these people are incapable of feeling shame. They are on par with the Clintons.

    So how about this: first they toss this ridiculous pretense in the garbage where it belongs and just restore benefits to the poor and disabled to what they were when Mike Harris was in power. You know, before the 22% cuts? No?? Too much to ask?? THEN WHAT IN THE HELL ARE THEY TALKING ABOUT BASIC INCOME FOR IF THEY CAN’T EVEN DO THAT!!


    Can you imagine that the poor long for the days of Mike Harris?? Is there anything in the entire universe that could possibly be more preposterous than that? I can’t imagine it!!

    Welfare cuts are shameful

    • himelfarb says:

      I totally understand your anger, frustration and scepticism and I agree that rate increases and restoring services is needed and shouldn’t have to wait while other reforms are being examined. These consultations are a chance to make these points and look beyond as well. But you’re right that we need to start with the basics

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