Guaranteed Annual Income: Its time has come

As we head to the polls the dominant theme in this federal election has been the economy. Leading up to Election Day on October 19, the parties remind us our vote is not only for a particular party but for an approach to governance and how that party will spend our tax dollars.

Over the past 20 years we have seen the divide between those who have and those who don’t widen. At the same time the bedrock of Canada’s post World War II economy the middle class has eroded as big business whittled away unions, manufacturing and research and development in Canada. All of this occurred under the leadership of a federal party that believes tax breaks for business and the rich help an economy grow. Yet as we have experienced, Canada is the only G7 country to see a slow down in economic growth. Going to the polls we have to ask ourselves what kind of country do we want to live in?

Imagine if it were possible to end the cycle of poverty that is sadly growing across our nation. Imagine being able to ensure that all Canadians regardless of birth or circumstance were given the opportunity to realize their potential. Poverty and economic inequality are not only traumatizing and debilitating but they also result in the loss of social capital. While we may believe poverty does not affect us, each of us in some way or another pays as inequality eats away at Canada’s social fabric.

We have it within our grasp to change the economic and social situation in Canada through the implementation of a guaranteed or basic annual income. The idea is not new and variations on it have been implemented at different times in Canada and across the globe.

Old Age Security is a form of guaranteed or basic annual income. It was implemented in 1967 to ensure that seniors who were recognized as a low income group were able to economically survive once they reached the age of retirement. Unlike welfare or other forms of social assistance which are complex and bureaucratically structured, Old Age Security operates as a guarantee for all seniors reaching the age of retirement.

In 1974 a pilot project in Dauphin, Manitoba discovered that a guaranteed basic income increased the overall health of the community while hospital rates dropped in the same period. Individuals who no longer had to scramble for shelter or food began contributing to their community by working or volunteering with projects to help others. Proponents on both the left and right argue that the merits of the program could help reduce poverty while also decreasing rising costs for the delivery of social services. A Toronto Star article from July 4th, 2015 argued that the cost to implement such a program across Canada would come to about $16 billion dollars a year but that this would be $ 6 billion dollars less than the current system that delivers social services.

Too many of our social services which were implemented as a social safety net after World War II still operate with archaic 19th-century ideologies of poverty. These ideologies see those in need of assistance as either deserving or undeserving poor based on dated ideas. The system of social services tainted by these views, tiers how and who can access assistance in Canada. This complicated web of social services, including welfare, disability, unemployment, housing and services for first nations are administered by an expensive set of bureaucracies that are difficult to navigate and manage. Those on social assistance are at the mercy of a system that never recognizes their basic humanity.

Imagine instead of this complicated arrangement a simpler more direct process which allows each Canadian the dignity and ability to contribute to society. Canada and the world around us has changed and the way we address poverty and inequality also needs to change. Instead of a complicated tiered system which penalizes those seeking assistance we need a system that recognizes the debilitating affects of poverty and inequality. Our current system is a catch-22 that traps those on assistance in a cycle of poverty that is difficult to break. Instead of tinkering with a broken system we need a new approach to poverty and inequality in Canada.

We need a system that recognizes that each and every Canadian has something to offer and to contribute to society. A guaranteed or basic annual income would help foster an environment where these complex issues could be addressed. Imagine all Canadians, no matter their need being accorded a basic income that allowed them to focus on contributing rather than simply surviving. Instead scrambling each week to make payments for food or shelter we could focus our time and energy on making the world a better place for all involved. Imagine the social capital that could be freed from the drudgery of trying to meet payments for the basics in life and you have a Canada that becomes a better place for all. Imagine the Canada that you want to live in.