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DAVID DELANEY: Guaranteed annual income an idea worth exploring in Canada

David Delaney - Point of View
David Delaney - Point of View

Our present COVID-19 crisis is necessarily one whose overriding concern is and must remain the health of our citizens. In this regard, there are no words to adequately express the debt we shall forever owe to our healthcare workers who are meeting this crisis head-on with extraordinary skill and devotion.

Like many readers, I am a little concerned with the stock market. Yet, it is not improvident for us to look, even in this early stage, to lessons we may learn from what is now clearly a critical economic situation. Lessons that go beyond strictly health-care concerns and touch more generally on the broader and more long-term viability of the four municipalities which make up Cape Breton Island.

We have seen a concerted effort on the part of our federal government and all provinces to stave off a protracted economic recession and bring immediate relief to individuals, employees and employers alike. There are programs for debt deferment, wage subsidies, the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) for displaced workers, etc.

Our governments across the country are to be commended for these efforts.

Yet, as far as economic measures instituted by governments are concerned, it is fair to say that these efforts are reactive responses.

Perhaps we can find in this situation an opportunity to consider a new program that, among other beneficial aspects, could be pro-active. A program that, if in place, would avoid the need to rush in with temporary measures, some of which will invariably be ill-considered.

I am referring to a Guaranteed Annual Income (GAI), also called a Basic Income.

Its principal components are well known. It provides a basic yearly income to all adult citizens. The important details respecting amount, family size and the like are comparatively simple to calculate. Suffice it to say here, for the purposes of this article, that it would be in the range of $20,000. It would replace all other direct public economic payments to citizens, chief among them Old Age Security, Canada Pension, Social Assistance and Employment Insurance.

It has been tried before on a trial basis in Canada, in the mid-1970s in Dauphin, Man., and it was successful. Contrary to what many would consider a likely result, namely a significant number of people unwilling to work, the situation was quite the contrary.

Further, public health costs decreased, education rates increased, there was less crime and, in all groups other than two, employment rates remained stable or increased.

Those two were pregnant women, the program preceding the maternity leave benefits now currently in place, and among male youths who, instead of leaving school to work, then completed their formal educations.

Former Conservative Senator Hugh Segal is a big proponent of the program. He has recently written a book titled “Bootstraps need boots," where he details the benefits of the policy.

The program’s effectiveness in forestalling economic crises of the type precipitated now is evident. Individuals would have in place an income stream and patch-work ones need not be quickly hobbled together.

Its real benefit, however, goes far beyond any form of temporary amelioration. It, instead, allows for long-term community stability and individual opportunity as the Manitoba experiment revealed and as such sources as ‘Basic Income America” demonstrate.

Looking to one example, sometimes, has more meaning than listing a wealth of statistics. So, here’s an example.

Let’s look at a single parent of two children. This person is on one form of government assistance but in order to keep it she or he cannot go to work. This person is afraid to take the leap from the certainty of her benefit to a job.

Under the GAI, the person can go to work and still receive the GAI. Entitlement is later balanced through taxation.

Will there be abuses? Likely so, but we have them now with the current system and everyone knows it. This one, however, encourages incentive and provides the basis to get ahead.

Any or, better still, all of Cape Breton’s municipalities would provide an excellent contemporary setting for trying this concept here, with a view to its later national implementation. Now would be an ideal time for municipal government to take this plan to Halifax and Ottawa.

David Delaney lives in Albert Bridge. He can be contacted at [email protected].


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