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February 25, 2011 / mike54martin

Guaranteed Annual Income

                            New Call for Guaranteed Annual Income

The idea of a guaranteed annual income for Canadians has been around for a long time but it has received new winds in its sails thanks to a November 2010 Parliamentary report that called for the Feds to produce an action plan to reduce poverty and to back it up with a new federal transfer (a poverty reduction fund) supporting initiatives at the provincial and territorial level.

It also has a very and surprising Conservative champion. Well, maybe not so surprising. Senator Hugh Segal, Brian Mulroney’s former chief of staff and one of the remaining “Red Tories” has made the guaranteed annual income his latest crusade. His view is that the system we have for supporting poor and low income Canadians is badly broken and in need of a major renovation, not just tinkering around the edges. He also sees the idea as one that could not just help people survive but could actually save money for the Canadian taxpayer.

Anti-poverty activists and progressive politicians have been making the case for a guaranteed annual income in Canada since the 1960’s but their calls have fallen on uncaring ears in provincial and federal power circles. The main argument against the concept is that it would provide a disincentive for people to go out and look for work. But that is simply a thinly disguised version of “why don’t those lazy bums get a job?” The other knock on a guaranteed annual income in that it would cost more money.

Senator Segal can’t do much about the first argument. His side of the party never really believed in bashing the poor; they just wanted to make sure they stayed that way. But he blows the second out of the water. In his columns and public addresses he notes that Statistics Canada reports that Ottawa and the provinces have, since 2007, spent $150-billion annually on transfers in a range of income security programs unrelated to education and health care. And really have nothing, except more poor people, especially children to show for it.

The sad reality is that the number of Canadians living below the poverty line has continued to hover around the same numbers for the last decade or so and while seniors are marginally better off due to tax-based income supplements there has been almost no progress in Canada or any of the provinces in dealing with this issue. The equality gap between extremely rich and very poor is growing and it is having an impact on almost fabric of our society, from education to crime to addiction and mental health related problems. All of us, especially the middle class and working people pay more in real, tangible costs to maintain this inequitable system.

Senator Segal makes a business case for a guaranteed annual income that at least re-starts a discussion on one of the most important issues that we have before us. Let’s be sure that at least some of us are engaged as well.

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