Op-Ed: Parties Endorse Basic Income: Parliamentary Budget Officer Presents Costing

by Marie Burge, member of the PEI Working Group for a Livable Income; PEI representative on the national organization, Coalition Canada: basic income/revenu de base

The PEI Working Group for a Livable Income is encouraged that the Liberal Party of Canada and the New Democratic Party (NDP) brought forward basic income (BI) in their party conventions in early April. Advocates across the country had lobbied both parties to make basic income a priority. It is encouraging to see these two parties take a stand on the need and efficacy of a basic income for all of Canada. The proof of the effectiveness of endorsement, however, will be whether or not either party will make basic income a priority in the next election platform.

The Liberal Party uses the term “Universal Basic Income” and the NDP says Guaranteed Basic Income. The former is sometimes used as a general term which may mean any type of basic income. Or it can mean a specific model of basic income. There are two distinct models of basic income. The one that is properly called Universal Basic Income is a program which delivers a cheque unconditionally to everyone, rich and poor alike. The other one, called by many different names (Basic Income Guarantee; Guaranteed Basic Income; Guaranteed Livable Basic Income, etc.)  is a program that creates an income floor (also known as the poverty line) and results in a cheque sent unconditionally to everyone whose income falls below that floor. This latter model is the one mainly promoted by grassroots movements across Canada.

It is no accident that the Parliamentary Budget Officer’s (PBO) report on costing came out just prior to the conventions and at a time when the federal deficit is extremely high because of necessary COVID 19 spending. Unfortunately, this PBO report provided government and other opposition to basic income with rationale for claiming that basic income is too expensive. What is hidden is that the PBO generally does predictions in terms of gross cost.

 Many respected economists and basic income advocates across the country have explained over and over again that the cost could be brought down to close to net zero. This can be done without major tax burdens to either the so-called middle class or even to the ultra rich. For example, basic income by its nature will free up current federal and provincial dollars now spent on various social programs, such as social assistance. The cancellation of a range of tax breaks which currently favor high income people will reduce the gross cost.  These calculations do not even include savings in health care and in the penal system. There is ample evidence that people on low income use health care system more frequently and are over-represented in the country’s criminal justice system.

It is important to note that a national basic income program will thrive only if it is reinforced by companion social programs which are needed to create a solid supporting framework for BI. These include universal health care, universal pharmacare, universal childcare, access to affordable and safe housing and food sovereignty. Furthermore, BI is intertwined with reversing global warming and with the reversal of systemic racism, ageism and with the full inclusion of people with disabilities..

Along with Basic Income groups across Canada, we will continue to push for creating a national basic income program that promotes economic and social equality. We urge Canadians in the next election to vote so that the next government will have the courage and political will to establish a basic guaranteed income for the whole country.

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