MIDLOTHIAN, Virginia — More than 100 speakers and participants attended a conference at McGill University. The conference was an effort by a group of academics and activists to drum up support for a plan to provide a secure income and guaranteed minimum wage in Canada, whether or not the citizens have jobs.
The new plan would allow all Canadians to have a national income of around $18,750, and has garnered some bipartisan support. The income would be provided to citizens regardless of whether or not they have employment. Almost 900,000 out of 34 million people in Canada use food banks to guarantee their meals. Canada hosts more children in poverty than any other developed country.
While the idea is not a new one —the Canadian and Manitoba governments tried to implement a guaranteed minimum income in the 1970s—it has experienced a resurgence in numerous countries, including Switzerland and the United States.
In the United States, support for this idea has found itself a host on both sides of the political spectrum. Proponents on the left see it as an opportunity for greater redistribution of wealth while those on the right see it as a chance to give monetary control back to the citizens.
“Guaranteed income has rarely had this much attention in the United States since Richard Nixon tried to introduce such a program for families in the 1960s,” said Almaz Zelleke, a professor at New York University and a presenter at the conference.
Zelleke went on to add that the effort was stalled by leaders in Congress. At the conference, Zelleke’s presentation discussed how a guaranteed income could work from a fiscal point and how it might be possible to alleviate the economic burden through taxes.
From 1974 to 1978, the town of Dauphin was the subject of the original guaranteed minimum income project. The goal of the program, which cost the Canadian Government around $17 million to implement, was to discover whether providing extra money directly to residents who fell below a predetermined income level would be an effective social policy.
During that four year period, the area saw the overall health of its citizens improve, causing hospital rates to decline, according to a 2010 study by University of Manitoba Professor Evelyn Forget.
While it’s currently not a part of the platform of Canada’s ruling political party, the idea has gained some traction among the opposition. Liberal Party delegates passed two resolutions related to guaranteed minimum income at a meeting in Montreal earlier this year, and the Green Party has also endorsed the idea in its party platform. Even some Conservatives have argued in favor of it, including former Conservative senator Hugh Segal. Segal had argued in favor of the plan for years, stating that it would be able to provide better services for the people while cutting government spending.
“The idea’s not new; it’s not really radical,” said Rob Rainer, a campaign director for the Basic Income Canada Network. Rainer emphasized the notion that seniors and families with children receive a small guaranteed stipend from the government.
Rainer said the idea becomes radical when one starts to include members of the population who are of working-age. He added that the reason why the idea becomes extreme is because in current culture, a majority of the population was brought up to believe that in order to survive in the world, they would have to gain employment.
– Monica Newell