Re: Pallister gives cabinet ministers marching orders for new session (March 4)
Premier Brian Pallister has mandated Families Minister Heather Stefanson to "transform" Employment and Income Assistance from a "benefit that encourages dependency" to one that provides a short-term bridge to meaningful employment.
On the same day, reports emerged of a study conducted at McMaster University on the Ontario Basic Income pilot project. This pilot was launched in 2017 by Ontario’s former Liberal government but was prematurely cancelled a year later by newly elected Conservative government of Doug Ford. Recipients of basic income in the Ontario pilot study received a higher level of benefits than they had on social assistance. Additionally, they were not subject to the usual bureaucratic surveillance and stigma (associated with presumptions of "dependency") that typifies social assistance programs such as EIA here in Manitoba.
Despite the project’s abrupt cancellation, research is accumulating on how it worked during its operation. The McMaster study found many of the Ontario pilot participants were better able to enter the workforce when they had a basic income. In the words of the study leader, economics professor Wayne Lewchuk, the BI recipients’ "motivation to find better jobs seemed to come from improved self-confidence as well as their better state of physical and mental health."
The results of this study are corroborated in other research. With a secure economic floor provided by an adequate and unconditional basic income, people have a better chance to secure decent jobs, finish education and training, or start businesses. The path to economic productivity involves a guaranteed income floor for everyone, rather than targeting those thought to be "dependent" with compulsory and punitive measures.
The Progressive Conservative government might look at the platforms offered by the NDP, Liberal and Green parties in the 2019 provincial election. All three parties argued for a version of basic income, and the proposal of the Green Party was particularly detailed and well thought out.
Associate Professor, Faculty of Social Work & St. Paul’s College, University of Manitoba
Re: Demand for EIA transformation lacks vision (March 6)
Dan Lett correctly identifies the problem with Premier Brian Pallister’s "plans" for weaning people off welfare, as he points out the idea itself is worthy of merit and discussion, but it’s all surface. I can only assume that in Pallister’s mind, anyone currently on welfare is simply too lazy to be rich — you know, like him.
I would agree that attaining higher education and having a strong work ethic are things to aspire to, things that will lift someone out of poverty and off government dependence. Unfortunately, Pallister seems to only understand the words, not the meaning behind them; otherwise, he wouldn’t be putting such a strain on post-secondary institutions, the very places where people can get higher education in a field that interests them and that will hopefully qualify them for employment after they have graduated. He put in charge of education a farmer with no discernible post-secondary education on his record that I could easily find.
Lett suggests substantial increases to the minimum wage. I suppose that’s one way to go, but we’ve seen ample evidence that this doesn’t exactly work as intended, especially with employers who employ minimum-wage workers who will just stop doing that.
Lett also suggests a guaranteed income supplement, an idea I’m not generally against. But it does have one or two major pitfalls, the foremost being personal responsibility. The other is that in discussions on whether to institute this idea nationally, it was debated how it could be paid for. One idea is to simply wrap the social safety net up into it, putting the onus squarely on the individual to budget and plan for events in their lives with this money.
Reports in the last two years in various financial publications suggest many Canadians live just $200 away from insolvency and can’t afford a $400 emergency fund... and this is to whom you want to give a guaranteed income?
Education is the way to solve this problem. Give universities the budgets they need to provide the educational services to train the population, make university more affordable so more people can attend and do well.
It may take a little longer to get people educated and working, but it will be far more transformative than Pallister’s current thinking.
In his column, Dan Lett clearly addresses the shortcomings of Premier Brian Pallister, and prior governments, in addressing the needs of the poor. Pallister’s mandate letter to Heather Stefanson is nothing but a political soundbite to make his government look like it is doing something to address poverty.
Lett clearly states that issues such as tax reform for low-income workers, a sizable increase to the minimum wage and provision of vision and dental benefits and accessible child care are what is really needed to help people in poverty.
In the same issue, Royce Koop ("Breakfast program targets specific need") discusses the benefits of a hot breakfast program in schools in addressing the needs of low-income families and potentially addressing the province’s poor education results.
Unfortunately, the Pallister government does not recognize the merit of these initiative. Why is it that columnists can so effectively identify strategies to improve the lot of the poor, while governments either refuse to address these issues or don’t recognize them at all?
Re: Socialism discourages charitable giving (March 5)
The more socialist a society is, the more selfish its citizens are. I used to think that was a contradiction, but it’s absolutely true.
It isn’t just in charitable giving the Americans surpass Canadians, but in every aspect of generosity. They internalize their values instead of having them imposed from without by the group. Despite what we are told by the CBC, Americans are much more helpful and friendly than Canadians, and I would even say from the people I’ve met in the Deep South and the mountains shadowing the East Coast, much more polite.
Alexis de Tocqueville summed up the difference in the European and American attitudes with the scenario of a church steeple blown down in a storm. While Europeans would stand around and wait for someone in authority to come and fix it, Americans would immediately roll up their sleeves to clean it up and raise money to rebuild it.
But I also have to say that, from what I’ve seen in my travels, Manitobans are the tops in Canada for helpfulness and good character.