Guaranteed income program worth a look in this province

Speaking out — By Jamie Warren

Published on July 10, 2014

The Liberal Party of Canada passed a resolution related to “guaranteed minimum income” at their biannual meeting in Montreal.

The resolution entitled “Creating a basic annual income to be designed and implemented for a fair economy” is lengthy and I will spare you from the detailed resolution. However what is interesting is the term “guaranteed Income.”  Guaranteed income means exactly what you would think it means. Every Canadian of a determined age would be guaranteed a minimum income no matter how much money they actually earn.   

Before you flip the page and shake your head, you would be interested to know that this is already being done by the federal government through programs like the guaranteed income supplement, Canada Child Tax Benefit and Old Age Security. These programs are not perfect but they have helped in reducing the rates of poverty among their targeted groups.  

If that still does not convince you that we should take a good look at it, you would be interested to know that this was already done from 1974-1978 in Dauphin, Manitoba.

This pilot project guaranteed a minimum income to residents of that area. The program cost $17 million and was done to find out if a guaranteed minimum income would make for good social policy.

In a 2010 study by Evelyn Forget through the University of Manitoba, it was discovered that the community’s overall health improved and the visits to the hospital declined.

If visits to the hospital went down then it would be easy to figure out that health care system costs were reduced. This is a key benefit as we are all aware of the increasing cost of health care in this country.

We are all familiar with the minimum wage concept and the discussions among all groups each time the minimum wage gets reviewed. Should we be looking at a guaranteed income program instead?   

The next question I know everyone is going to ask is how do we pay for it?  If everyone is going to get a guaranteed income then the budget for this would have to be significant. It is estimated that Canada could require an investment in the range of $32 billion. This seems like a huge number and quite an obstacle to tackle.  

Some of the money needed for this program would come from the efficiencies and savings from other programs.

For example in the Manitoba situation health care visits were reduced and, as a result, saved money.

A 2008 study estimated $72 billion to $86 billion as the price Canadians pay for health care, criminal justice and lost productivity costs associated with poverty.

Poverty’s demand on health care alone may now approach $40 billion per year, according to Rob Rainer and Kelly Ernst of Basic Income Canada Network.

The basic income network also suggests, “If a basic income is implemented then we predict the result will be that the well-being of all Canadians would improve, poverty would be drastically reduced, even eliminated, and the social justice problems associated with disparity will be significantly diminished.”

I think the potential for a program like “guaranteed income” is too high not to take a good hard look at what the program could accomplish in our society. There is no harm in exploring all options in trying to deal with poverty and other social issues in our society.

Jamie Warren is a native of Pasadena living in St. John's. He is a member of The Western Star's Community Editorial Board.