The province is acting on recommendations in a discussion paper by former Conservative senator Hugh Segal. Segal has suggested that the government provide a basic income of about $1,320 per month, and that the program be tested over three years in three different types of communities in Ontario.
Premier Kathleen Wynne’s government has promised to offer details this month about where and how the program would be tested in Ontario.
Federally, the House of Commons finance committee called on the federal government a year ago to consider a pilot study of its own.
You might recall that a policy resolution on a guaranteed minimum income was dropped in the lap of leader Justin Trudeau at the party’s biennial national convention in Montreal in 2014. At that time delegates approved a priority resolution that would call on a Liberal government “to work with the provinces and territories to design and implement a basic annual income for all Canadians.”
It was one of those politically delicate issues that was strategically left out of the Liberal party’s election platform. Whether or not it becomes part of Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s future budgeting process is anyone’s guess.
Until recently, both federal and provincial governments have steered clear of discussing such a radical change in social policy because many deemed it tantamount to political suicide. Times have changed and support for such a proposal has been receiving wide acceptance across all party lines. Ontario’s proposed pilot would test "that a basic income could build on the success of minimum wage policies and increases in child benefits by providing more consistent and predictable support."
Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard says he’s “dead serious” about exploring the possibility of such social reforms and has appointed a cabinet committee to that end.
A guaranteed annual income has been defined as a single, cash payment that would replace all current social programs, such as welfare and employment insurance. It would create a minimum income below which no Canadian would fall.
Statistics Canada now sets a “low-income line” at about $22,200 for a single person and $47,000 for a family with three children. Sen. Segal contends that such a policy would be affordable because it would be funded with the dollars available from the elimination of other social programs and the savings from avoiding poverty’s immense costs.
Ron Rainer of the Basic Income Canada Network writes that “the question is not can Canada afford basic income, but rather, how can we not? With all the rhetoric about reducing public spending and economic disparity, a basic income would help achieve both goals.”
With a provincial election call expected for this spring in Nova Scotia, this might be an issue proponents of a guaranteed minimum income might want to raise with the candidates of all three major parties. It might make for a rather lively debate topic.
Geoff deGannes is the past chairman of the Tantramar Radio Society. His daily commentaries can be heard on 107.9 CFTA.