Four questions on food 09/18/2015

In our module Basic Income: Giving Canadians a Solid Floor to Stand On, former Canadian senator Hugh Segal joined us discuss his vision for alleviating poverty in Canada. 

1. Is basic income a policy whose time has come?

I believe it is shaping up to be, yes. The surge in attention basic income policy has been getting over the past year or so has been heartening: health professionals are calling for it, many journalists are covering it, and, increasingly, politicians like Naheed Nenshi and Don Iveson as well as the federal Liberal Party, are coming out in support of it.

We as Canadians have a collective responsibility to find a solution to the systemic issue of poverty in our country. It is the efficient and humane thing to do. The Mincome pilot in Manitoba in the 1970s gave us early evidence that a basic income policy is effective, and the more recently implemented Guaranteed Income Supplement for seniors has further proven its potential. Dealing with poverty and reducing its occurrence should be the social project of our time, and a basic income could make that happen.

2.  You have argued that Canada has failed to effectively address poverty. Why? Where have current policies failed?

Our federal and provincial governments have argued for decades that poverty is a “complex” problem. “Complex” is a code word for a problem no one wants to face head on. Poverty is a complex issue to be sure, but it is, at its core, about one thing — not having enough income to afford basic needs such as food, shelter, clothing, and transportation. Our current policies are overly complicated and effectively make it more difficult for people living in poverty to access the services and income they need to get by. A basic income, in the form of a negative income tax, would create a solid floor beneath which no Canadian could fall.

Clearly, what we are currently doing is not working. The overall poverty level in Canada has changed little over the past 35 years, dropping from 12.9 per cent in the mid-1970s to 12 per cent in the late 1990s. For some Canadians the picture is even starker: for recent immigrants, the poverty rate has grown from 12.6% in 1981 to 17.6% in 2010.

3. Implementing a basic income in Canada would be no small task. What can we look to in our collective past that might help make the case for such a significant undertaking?

Canadians benefit from a social safety net of which we are proud. Universal health insurance has provided Canadians with a tradition of affordable, equitable medical care. The Guaranteed Income Supplement has halved seniors’ risk of food insecurity. These successes were not without their controversy when introduced — yet now we wouldn’t live without them. But that economic security base so fundamental to encouraging economic growth, the pursuit of excellence, and a stronger and more inclusive economy for all is weakened and imperilled without a basic income floor to eradicate poverty.

4. CFCC is asking Canadians over social media to complete the phrase, “Give Canadians a solid floor to stand on. To me a basic income would mean _______ .” What would basic income mean to you personally?

To me, basic income would mean equality of opportunity for Canada. It is affordable, manageable, sustainable, and realistic, and will pay all of society higher returns than our present “all help short of aid” approach that leaves poverty for the next generation to solve. Not dealing with poverty is like saying a serious curable disease affecting millions is not worth addressing. We can absolutely do better.

To hear more from Hugh Segal and Dr. Andrew Pinto about basic income and its place in Canada's future, check out our basic income module