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Anglican bishops across Canada say the pandemic has revealed the urgent need for a guaranteed basic income program; and they've written to the prime minister asking him to implement it.
Spearheaded by Geoff Woodcroft, bishop of Rupert’s Land, which includes parts of Manitoba and northwestern Ontario, the letter is signed by 28 of 29 of the church’s bishops, along with Linda Nicholls, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada.
"Of all the issues the Anglican church has been involved in, this is as unanimous as it gets," said Woodcroft, noting the only reason not all bishops signed is because the Diocese of Athabasca, which includes Fort McMurray, is battling a flood.
"It’s totally exciting to see so many solidly behind this."
In the letter, the bishops applaud the government for its response to the pandemic, including the emergency benefit for laid-off workers, but it notes some people are excluded from such programs.
The letter calls a guaranteed basic income an "affordable, just, evidence-based policy option."
Citing the 1970s Manitoba Basic Income Experiment, or Mincome, and recent efforts in Ontario, the letter notes it would provide "beneficial returns in every aspect of our polity, from justice to health, from education to social welfare."
It would not just be "an astute financial policy," it goes on to say, but also would mark "our identity as a country who cares for one another... a new social contract, defining a new relationship among Canadians, through the mediating role of our government."
It would also be a "great, transformational legacy left by this government" out of the pandemic, equal to the creation of universal health insurance.
Woodcroft got the idea when he saw the effect of the pandemic on Manitoba's poor.
"I was watching people struggle, and watched parishes trying to help those falling between the cracks," he said of how Anglican churches in the province were stepping up to provide food and other basic necessities.
"It hit my heart again and again."
He read Hugh Segal’s book, Bootstraps Need Boots: One Tory's Lonely Fight to End Poverty in Canada, in which the author outlines the case for a guaranteed basic income.
"I devoured it," he said, adding he reached out to other experts on the topic such as Evelyn Forget at the University of Manitoba.
“I was watching people struggle, and watched parishes trying to help those falling between the cracks... It hit my heart again and again.” – Bishop Geoff Woodcroft
Last week, he organized a Zoom meeting for Anglican bishops and Segal. During that meeting it became apparent there was cross-country interest in the idea.
Following the meeting, Woodcroft wrote a first draft of the letter and then invited response from other bishops. The final copy was sent to the prime minister on the weekend.
"I did it out of a sense of Christian compassion," he said about why he is promoting the idea.
"The call of God on the body of Christ is to look after our neighbours. God wants everyone to have life, and to have it abundantly. (This) is one way to open the door to abundance for everyone."
Woodcroft believes Canadians will support it, and that it will especially resonate in Manitoba where people generously help people living in poverty.
"I also believe they would want to prevent people from becoming poor in first place," he said, of why he believes many will get behind the call.
Forget, an economist and professor in the department of community health sciences at the University of Manitoba, has been researching guaranteed basic income for about a decade. She welcomes the support of the Anglican church.
"I would expect faith communities to be thinking about economics and social justice," she said, noting she isn’t surprised to see the pandemic spurring this conversation.
"People should have enough to live on... it’s a shock to see how little some people are paid to do essential jobs," she noted. "Many of them are not earning enough to be above the poverty line."
Woodcroft said the initiative is not tied to any political party. "This is the work we should be doing. This is the work God calls me to do."
In addition to the Anglican bishops, the letter was signed by Susan Johnson, national bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, and Jason Zinko, bishop of the same denomination in Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario.
Manitobans are invited to show their support by writing to their MP and the prime minister. More information is available on the diocese’s website at www.rupertsland.ca.
John Longhurst has been writing for Winnipeg's faith pages since 2003. He also writes for Religion News Service in the U.S., and blogs about the media, marketing and communications at Making the News.
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