A New Year’s Resolution: A Challenge to the Harper Government

The Conservative Government has proven itself to be willing to fast-track policies that meet its agenda. It is clear, focused and resolute in getting its version of government rapidly through Parliament.  A Basic Income Program meets current Harper Government requirements:  reduced government bureaucracy, simplicity, ease of implementation, quick to apply and take effect, economic savings, and a guaranteed vote-getter from those who presently do not bother to vote.

Elizabeth May, Leader of the Green Party of Canada, tosses the gauntlet to Mr. Harper and Mr. Flaherty, “Here is a policy, long overdue, that can be implemented easily and quickly, namely, a Universal Basic Income Program.”  One of the best-known champions of this type of program in North America was Milton Friedman, the free-market economist.

Viewed in the context of recent decisions delivered to the Premiers by the Harper government, this type of program provides a logical alternative to continued rapid increases in health care costs.  Poverty is directly related to the increased cost of health care.  Providing basic income would also benefit all Canadians in reduced costs for education, criminal justice, and social services.

In 2007, it would have taken $12.6 billion to give the 3.5 million Canadians living in poverty enough income to live above the poverty line. And yet, that year, Canadians spent at least double that amount treating the consequences of poverty, says the National Council of Welfare last week in its report, “The Dollars and Sense of Solving Poverty”.

“We’re hoping Canadians will talk to their politicians and say: ‘Look, this makes sense. Let’s shift our thinking to an investment-based approach. Let’s save dollars. Let’s make sure everyone is better off,” said the Chair of the National Council of Welfare, John Rook. The Council is a federally-appointed advisory body to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development.

There is more and more evidence that we cannot afford poverty. For example, 80% of incarcerated Canadian women are there for poverty-related crimes; 39% for failure to pay a fine. Corrections Canada estimates it costs, on average, $175,000 per year to keep a woman in jail; this increases to over $250,000 for those who spend time in the segregated maximum security units, often a result of mental illness. As the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development reported on Dec. 5, the wage gap in Canada is widening, with the top 10% in 2008 earning $103,500 on average, 10 times higher than the bottom 10%, who made on average $10,260.

Canada already pursues basic income-like policies through the guaranteed income supplement (GIS) for low-income seniors and tax benefits for families with children.

In a commentary published Dec. 15, Glen Hodgson, Senior Vice-President and Chief Economist at the Conference Board of Canada, said the prospect of both economic and social gains make it the right time to reconsider this “big idea”.

The Green Party of Canada shares this view and is keen to support a program that is so vital to the health and vitality of the Canadian economy.  “Poverty is not a partisan issue, nor a political one – it is about people.  The Basic Income Program is one that the Conservative government can surely support,” said May.

The following link provides additional useful comment on basic income: