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Basic income all but inevitable in Canada, says researcher

Basic income guarantee.
Basic income guarantee. - 123RF Stock Photo

Evelyn Forget to speak in Summerside, Charlottetown on guaranteed regular payments

An expert on the subject of the basic income guarantee, a proposed social program that would see all adults receive a regular payment from government, will be delivering two lectures in P.E.I. this week.

Evelyn Forget, an economist at the University of Manitoba, has conducted research on basic income guarantee programs in Canada and around the world. She is also the author of a new book, “Basic Income for Canadians: The Key to a Healthier, Happier, more Secure Life for All”.

Evelyn Forget.
Evelyn Forget

Forget will be speaking on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. at the Linkletter Community Centre outside of Summerside and at the Duffy Amphitheatre at UPEI on Wednesday at 7 p.m. The UPEI lecture is presented by the Saint Dunstan’s University Institute of Christianity and Culture.

If implemented, a basic income guarantee program would largely replace current social assistance and disability support programs.

Advocates for basic income have faced challenges in recent months. Last July, the then-newly elected Progressive Government in Ontario announced the cancellation of a basic income guarantee pilot program that would have seen 4,000 participants receive up to $16,989 per year.

In P.E.I., after all MLAs from all parties voted in favour of a legislative motion in favour of the establishment of a basic income project on the Island, little progress has been made. The federal government has not made a commitment to fund such a project.

Still, Forget says she is optimistic.

"I think we've been moving towards a basic income in Canada for a number of years. It's easy, for example, to see the (federal) Canada Child Benefit that was just introduced a couple of years ago as a form of basic income for families with kids under 18," Forget said in an interview.

Forget says programs like the federal Old Age Security program share much in common with basic income. But she believes these programs are too narrow in their focus and do not include all adults.

Forget admitted that implementation of basic income by provincial governments has presented political challenges. Social assistance is a provincial responsibility in Canada.

"What we've been really terrible at doing is dealing with adult benefits in this country, where the provinces are responsible," Forget said.

Still, Forget believes the adoption of this program is inevitable. She believes the increasing burden of debt on provincial budgets, in no small part because of increasing health-care costs, means that income assistance will eventually become a responsibility of the federal government.

"As health takes a larger and larger portion, something's gotta give," Forget said.

Ottawa’s parliamentary budget officer has estimated the cost of a Canada-wide basic income guarantee would be $44 billion yearly. Forget has noted that provinces currently spend a combined $20 billion on income assistance and disability support.

Some progressives, however, have criticized the notion of the basic income guarantee and have suggested the project could be used by privatization advocates to dismantle other social programs for poor and middle class people.

Forget says the adoption of basic income would be intended to replace only social assistance programs.

"I don't think anybody in Canada who advocates for a basic income sees it as a way of cutting benefits," she said.

"Basic income works best when you have an infrastructure in place that supports a reasonable quality of life. So, we still need health care, we still need public education, we still need public transport, we still need all the things that are necessary."

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