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Conservative Call for Basic Income

February 27, 2022

By Hugh Segal

One of the ongoing features of official public policy on the issue of poverty in North America is the general approach to actually ignoring it, either as a problem to be solved, or a key cause of so many other social, health and economic problems.

In Ontario, despite a consensus between all political parties in 2016 that the positive solution of a Basic Income Pilot be tried and assessed, the Ford government cancelled the three-year pilot after one year, just after getting elected. No data on the pilot’s performance, the results and costs, were ever made public by the Ford administration. Four thousand volunteer participants were left high and dry. It was not only a decision by the Ford government to turn their back on the ten percent of Ontarians who live beneath the poverty line, it was the violation of a promise made by the Ontario government that no volunteer for the pilot would be worse off for having volunteered.

During the recent pandemic, rather than a virus that preyed on the unvaccinated or the elderly in its early stages, it is actually a pandemic that preyed disproportionately on those Canadians living beneath the poverty line, many of whom number among the working poor, who have low paying hourly jobs, no benefits and no sick leave.

Poverty is a perfect predictor of bad health outcomes, pandemic or not.

Poverty is a perfect predictor of sub-standard housing, food insecurity, substance abuse and trouble with the law.

My multi-decade support for Basic Income as an essential part of a mixed market economy coincided with my multi-decade activity as a Canadian Progressive Conservative.

Many folks, both in the party and outside, have asked, ‘how could that be?’

My answer is very simple and straight-forward:

1. Existing provincial welfare programmes cost billions right across Canada, and do not reduce poverty. My kind of Conservative hates the wasting of taxpayer’s money on programmes everyone knows do not work.

2. Existing welfare programmes have rules that actively discourage recipients from working. In some provinces, if a recipient tries to earn a couple of hundred dollars a month, that amount is clawed back by the government dollar for dollar. That is a one hundred percent tax rate on earned income—a higher rate than Canada’s wealthiest taxpayers pay. Excessive taxation, especially on our lowest income fellow citizens is simply mean and counterproductive—especially in essentially discouraging work.

3. All the evidence from other Basic Income pilots, in American cities, in Manitoba, in Finland, in Africa, and in Hamilton-Brantford, makes it clear that Basic Income is affordable, reduces health problems, encourages work and is far more efficient, humane and respectful than welfare. My kind of Conservative believes in evidence based policy, not anti-war based policy evasion.

4. Here in Kingston, despite the hard work of the Municipal Government, a plethora of charitable and NGO groups, the number of homeless has doubled this winter over last winter. Welfare payments to an average single recipient is seven hundred dollars a month; there are no rooms available to rent for less than eight hundred a month. This is a major contributor to homelessness in our city. While the city deserved great credit for new and renovated housing for the homeless, like the sleeping cabins at the Olympic Sailing Harbour, the hub, the warming centres, the Lower Union facility for the Indigenous community, all of this capacity is less than the minimum required. If Canada and Ontario stepped up to slash the poverty rates with a Basic Income, folks would have enough to cover reasonable housing and food purchases on their own, without civil servants telling them how to live their lives. My kind of Conservative believes that the freedom to make choices in one’s life is not only for the wealthy but for all residents of Canada.

The Kingston Chapter of the Basic Income Canada Coalition has been a strong and motivating force for social justice and economic progress for some years – and all of Canada has benefited for Kinston’s leadership.

With the focus now emerging on the coming Federal budget and the June provincial election, we have dramatic opportunities to move Basic Income ahead, the opportunity to work across party lines to finally loosen poverty’s grip on the lives of millions of Canadians. It is an historic and truly important opportunity.