Guaranteed-income idea kept alive by many

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Winnipeg Harvest asked me to represent them at the recent North American Basic Income Guarantee Congress held in Toronto two weeks ago.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 15/05/2012 (3741 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Winnipeg Harvest asked me to represent them at the recent North American Basic Income Guarantee Congress held in Toronto two weeks ago.

The congress was developed to discuss the various aspects and the pros and cons of instituting a guaranteed annual income in Canada. I’ve always been in favour of a GAI, as has Winnipeg Harvest, but I had no idea that there would be so many factors to consider and so much controversy, such as the notion of the “deserving” and “undeserving” poor.

My “experience” began when I landed at Pearson International Airport. When I went to receive my wheelchair from the baggage hold, to my horror, I found the steering device had been crushed and my chair was completely unusable. The staff of the airline got another chair to use while mine was taken away to be repaired. My attendant and I finally got to our inaccessible hotel room very late that night.

When I entered the congress at the University of Toronto the next morning, there were approximately 175 delegates, primarily Canadian, with some American representation.

In the plenary speech, Armine Yalnizyan, of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, provided an historical overview of the GAI, beginning with the 1950s when Milton Friedman, a libertarian who believed in less government, introduced a negative income tax (a form of a GAI).

The 1960s saw a war on poverty. The 1970s were when the GAI was more seriously considered and the Mincome program, a pilot project, was established in Manitoba from 1974-1978. Since then, there has been globalization, unemployment, growth with no prosperity and further inequality.

Rhys Kesselman, of Simon Fraser University, spoke about why “universal cash benefits” provide consumer sovereignty, independence, an efficient private market and low-cost choice. He alone at the conference provided cost figures for a universal GAI — $380 billion per year.

Kesselman said the difference between what we now pay for social services and what the GAI would cost would require a 25 per cent increase in income tax on the highest earners.

He said that would not be acceptable to Canadian taxpayers, recommended we forget about a GAI and instead improve our welfare state.

I was curious about Trish Hennessy’s presentation, Challenging Orthodoxy. I thought it might be something out of the ordinary — even radical.

Hennessy, also of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, suggested we need to look at the “Overton window.”

For example, universal health care initially was unthinkable, then radical. Finally, under Tommy Douglas, it became acceptable, and today it is popular. Universal health care provides a national identity for people in Canada.

The Occupy movement has shifted the paradigm concerning the 99 per cent versus the one per cent. To implement a GAI, we need to use the same paradigm to make it popular by broadening the audience — find a way to bring it from the unthinkable, to radical, then acceptable, and finally, popular, according to Hennessy.

She pointed out that the success of the GAI was shown in the Mincome program in Dauphin, the only city or town in Canada to implement the GAI.

Unfortunately, the current Manitoba NDP government has publicly opposed any kind of GAI in Manitoba.

Why? It seems to me they are still caught up in the notion of “deserving” and “undeserving” poor and that poor people should be looking at going to work.

Is the GAI even an option for Canada, or would it be too costly to implement? There were no answers here. We’ll just have to wait and see what unfolds.

Nick Ternette is a community and political activist, freelance writer and broadcaster.

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