A private member’s bill providing a guaranteed basic income for Canadians has no hope of being passed, but it contains a good idea that the Liberal government should steal.
Bill C-223, introduced in the House of Commons by NDP MP Leah Gazan last week, would direct the Minister of Finance to “develop a national framework for the implementation of a guaranteed basic income across Canada for anyone over the age of 17. . “Within a year of the passage of the bill, the minister would be required to present a framework for a basic income to parliament, and then report regularly on progress made in implementing the framework.
âIt is a political choice that people are poor in this country,â Ms. Gazan told me. âLet’s stop supporting businesses and invest in people. “
The interesting thing about a Guaranteed Basic Income is that there are aspects of it that appeal to both conservatives and progressives alike, as it could put an end to the heavy bureaucracies and complexities of the welfare state. . Not only would a guaranteed basic income reduce poverty, it would increase independence and accountability.
A guaranteed basic income could be a stabilizing force for Canada
Most private members’ bills die on the Order Paper, and so will C-223. But the possibility of Canada moving to a guaranteed basic income deserves further study.
This does not mean that research does not exist. There have been pilot programs and government reports and think tanks.
Earlier this year, the Parliamentary Budget Officer produced a report showing that a guaranteed income of around $ 17,000 for a single person and $ 24,000 for a couple “would reduce poverty rates by almost half in 2022, although this varies from province to province” . The PBO estimated the annual cost to the government at $ 93 billion by 2026.
The Basic Income Canada Network, a non-profit organization, has studied three scenarios. The lean version would offer a maximum of $ 22,000 for a single adult and just over $ 31,000 for a couple, and would cost the federal and provincial governments $ 134 billion per year. It would be paid in full by increasing federal income tax rates – the top bracket would go from 33% to 37% – by increasing corporate tax from 15% to 20%, taxing capital gains at the same level as income, and the dismantling of many existing social assistance programs.
Such tax increases could discourage investment and lead to increased unemployment, which would lead to an increase in the number of people dependent on a guaranteed basic income or other government assistance and producing unsustainable deficits.
And all of this presupposes that some sort of asymmetric agreement could be struck between Ottawa and the provinces, adapted to regional realities and to the fiscal capacity of each province.
And it is here that we could draw inspiration from Ms. Gazan’s bill. Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland could mandate a task force on the costs and benefits of a guaranteed basic income. The working group could be led by an outside authority or by senior officials of the ministry. There should be a lot of awareness raising with provincial and aboriginal governments, and in-depth modeling of the economic impacts.
The result, if successful, would be Canada’s first fully costed, gold-plated impact projection framework for a Federal-Provincial Guaranteed Basic Income. I would give the department 18 months to put it all together.
The framework could be so unrealistic and costly that it proves the Guaranteed Basic Income will not work. More likely, it would be adopted by one ideological side and rejected by the other. Those on the left might abandon the idea, once they see the full impact of cutting tens of billions of dollars from unemployment insurance, welfare and other income supports from people who would now be supposed to make their own way in the world, although support for people with disabilities, and perhaps some housing benefits, would remain.
Those on the right could protest against confiscatory taxation, a loss of competitiveness and the inevitability of new social programs in addition to the guaranteed basic income.
But the existing system, which was put in place over half a century ago, with successive layers added since, is so complex and sclerotic that meaningful reform is probably impossible. Maybe it’s time to replace it all with a simple, guaranteed income for everyone who needs it. Let’s at least look carefully.
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