A Basic Income Solution For Canada, For The World

A Basic Income Solution For Canada, For The World

How should our governments respond in a world of uncertain work and rising inequality? This is one of the most important social policy questions of our time — providing a Basic Income Guarantee could be our first, best answer.

This isn’t my father’s Canada of the 1950s, when work was so plentiful you could literally lose one job and gain another in the same day. In those days, as a young man full of wanderlust, he made his way across Canada riding freight trains and picking up jobs whenever he wanted to support his personal travel enterprise.

All those full-time jobs my father would get and then discard during this nomadic time of his life would be considered gold by today’s standards. The new world of precarious work has been gaining steam in Canada since the 1980s. In the Greater Toronto Area-Hamilton corridor, a staggering 52 per cent of workers are in temporary, contract, or part-time positions, according to a United Way/McMaster University study released earlier this year.

Precarious workers are twice as likely as those in stable jobs to report mental health problems and six times more likely to delay starting a relationship because of job uncertainty.

Basic Income Guarantee

The solutions to such problems are multifaceted and complex but providing a Basic Income Guarantee to Canadians is the most sensible first step.

  Our definition of work should change to include not just wage labour but the work we do everyday in caring for children, older family members, volunteering in communities, and participating in civic life.

There are many kinds of Basic Income but the type that has the most support here is a negative income tax model. In this model, a Basic Income would be universally available to anyone who needs it when their income drops below a certain threshold.

A Basic Income set at about $20,000 per year is most likely and is both reasonable and affordable. For example, if someone earns $13,000 from working at a part-time job; the Basic Income Guarantee would kick in with $7,000, spread out in equal monthly payments over 12 months, using our existing and efficient income tax system.

We already have forms of Basic Income in place now. Canada’s Child Tax Benefit is a form of Basic Income, except it’s directed to those who have kids. However, it’s paid to the parents who, study after study shows, know what to do with the money in a responsible manner to make the best life possible for their family. Our Old Age Security (OAS) is another Basic Income program — this one directed at older Canadians.

How to Pay for a Basic Income

Should we eliminate all of the welfare systems across Canada, the resources would open up to pay for and organize such a Basic Income. The existing welfare system has poorly served people living in poverty. In fact, such programs have further embedded poverty within communities.

I also believe we should be eliminating Employment Insurance (EI), given its failed mandate. At one time it was meant to be a springboard for people in between jobs. Increasingly stringent eligibility requirements and vastly reduced payouts have made it nothing more than a government cash cow and a mockery of its original intent.

The Benefits of Basic Income:

  • Strengthened social capital formation and greater civic engagement.
  • Significantly better health outcomes. Population health is one of the primary reasons we should be advocating for such a policy.
  • Some people will indeed stop working, but they will be a minority. If the program is set up correctly with strong work incentives built in, people will continue to want to add to what is only a ‘basic’ income — as the name suggests.
  • Partly because precarious work is so prevalent now we need to expand our definition of what work is. Our definition of work should change to include not just wage labour but the work we do everyday in caring for children, older family members, volunteering in communities, and participating in civic life.

With Ontario — Canada’s largest province — about to announce an ambitious pilot project to test Basic Income policy over a multi-year period, the federal government is watching closely. Quebec is considering its own initiative, as is Prince Edward Island. Governments around the world are studying what is happing in Canada, to see if this movement continues to gain traction.

Learn More:


Check out my newly released book, Basic Income: How a Canadian Movement Could Change the World.

The book features scores of interviews and articles with prominent Canadians, including federal Green Party leader Elizabeth May, Senator Art Eggleton, and retired Senators Hugh Segal and Michael Meighen. There are also interviews with MPs Scott Brison and Dan Blaikie, as well as big city mayors like Calgary’s Naheed Nenshi and Edmonton’s Don Iveson. I also interviewed researchers, academics, educators, and medical doctors, along with average Canadians — to get them to imagine what their lives would be like under a basic income guarantee.

Update: Nov. 3, 2016

Ontario Seeking Input on Basic Income Pilot - Click for press release