Basic Guaranteed Income Should be a Key Focus in NDP Leadership Race

NDP leadership hopeful Niki Ashton says she does not support basic guaranteed income, favouring social programs instead. (Stock Photo)

Leadership Hopeful Niki Ashton has shot down basic guaranteed income—why?
Joseph Keller, Staff Writer

The last federal election cycle was not kind to the New Democratic Party. After the late Jack Layton managed to position the party as the official opposition in 2011, a series of odd choices that nudged the party to the centre from its left-wing roots made it nearly irrelevant in 2015. Today the NDP is looking for a new direction with six potential leaders currently making their bids.

If the NDP really wants to regain relevance on the federal stage, it’s time for the party to adopt policy that will truly set them apart from the centrist Liberals. This is why it’s surprising to see some of the NDP leadership hopefuls so reluctant to embrace the idea of guaranteed basic income in Canada.

The idea of a guaranteed basic income has been teased by various political groups in Canada as a means of providing a safety net for Canadians in precarious working situations. To be clear, basic income shouldn’t be seen as a way for people to live off of a welfare state while doing no work. It should be looked at as a safety net that allows low income Canadians to take the steps needed to pull themselves out of poverty without being forced to live paycheque to paycheque.

In last month’s B.C. election, the B.C. Green Party managed to set themselves apart through their plan for a basic guaranteed income pilot program. The NDP could see similar success on a federal level using this same strategy.

Leadership Candidate Niki Ashton spoke out against the idea of adopting basic guaranteed income in response to opponent Guy Caron’s calls to adopt the policy at a recent NDP leadership debate. Ashton went on to make the somewhat puzzling argument that, since the Ontario Conservatives have pitched a plan for guaranteed basic income in lieu of other social programs, guaranteed income must be an idea for “those on the right.”

In response, Caron correctly pointed out that the two ideas need not necessarily be mutually exclusive.

“We can actually have basic income supplementing, topping up, what the provinces are doing on social services,” argued Caron at the debate. “This is a transformative, progressive idea that we have to claim for ourselves.”

The idea of a basic guaranteed income is gaining ground in Canada. It is being supported by provincial parties in British Columbia and Ontario, and the federal NDP has the opportunity to capitalize by becoming the supporting party of basic guaranteed income.

As automation replaces industry demand for human labor, there will be fewer and fewer jobs to go around, and basic guaranteed income will likely become a necessity. The sooner the idea of basic guaranteed income incites legitimate discussion on the federal stage, the better off Canadians will be. The NDP has the opportunity to bring about that change and reap the benefits.