Basic income in Canada

Why some scholars think that a basic income could help fix economic issues after the pandemic

Dr. Ross Pink, chair of the Political Science program at KPU. (file)

The debate over a basic income has come up most recently due to the economic impacts of the pandemic, leaving many wondering if the idea of establishing a basic income in Canada could be the answer to some widespread problems.

Basic income is defined as a minimum amount of money an individual can live on, and the idea of implementing it in Canada has been in the works for a long time.

It’s different from social income programs because it would be available to everyone and, theoretically, increase financial stability for those who need it. However, the idea has been criticized for its overall upfront costs, the potential cuts to other programs currently in place, and the lack of incentives for the public to work for financial compensation.

“Looking at this from a food and security context, and from the right to food perspective, certainly people need adequate incomes, and need adequate incomes to pay their rent, their tuition fees, pay for their food,” says Dr. Graham Riches, professor emeritus at the UBC School of Social Work.

“My particular argument about this is that food is a basic human need,” he says. “It’s not a problem of a lack of food, it’s a problem with a lack of income.”

Riches has been researching social programs like food banks in Canada since the 1980s, and recently wrote an article published in September titled “Canada must eliminate food banks and provide a basic income after COVID-19”.

“We have the old-age security benefit which is universal, which is also backed up by the guaranteed income supplement if it’s not sufficient,” he says.

He says that right now, solutions like food banks form a “parallel food charity economy” that can somewhat provide for people who need food but don’t reliably respond to their food needs in a way that basic income could.

In addition, food banks, food aid, or meal programs often cannot provide food that meets the dietary and health needs or cultural preferences of the recipients.

“If there’s an answer to that, I think it is that the agencies who are working with vulnerable populations need to be fully funded so that they can purchase the kinds of foods they need.”

Dr. Ross Pink, chair of KPU’s Political Science department says that the idea of a “basic, honourable income” is important, however, it must have the proper initiatives in place in order to be successful.

To implement basic income, policymakers, government, stakeholders, and representatives can work together and refine the details of a basic income by providing incentives that could be put in place.

Pink says that “millions and millions of jobs in North America and around the world are going to be gone in the next two to three decades,” due to automation.

Therefore, the right incentives can help those whose jobs are changing or being replaced. Some of those incentives include education, to which Pink proposed the idea of having an education option in place.

If a student were to receive basic income, that student could potentially get a discount on certain programs and retraining programs, therefore creating the incentive to contribute to sectors of society while still receiving the benefit.

“We’re going to have to have GAIN [Guaranteed Annual Income] for those people, that for whatever reason…are not able to either get or to find a new position that gives them a basic honourable income,” says Pink.

The overall cost of implementing basic income could have drastic effects on the economy, such as rising inflation rates, which would affect the amount one would receive as a basic income. However, if the program is implemented in a meaningful way that can work with the changes Canada is going through, the basic income idea could potentially change the country.