Basic Income congress a chance to turn ‘good idea’ into reality, says key organizer

By Roderick Benns

One of the key organizers for the upcoming North American Basic Income Guarantee (NABIG) Congress, says it’s time to go from discussing a “good idea” to figuring out how to make it a reality.

Dr. James Mulvale, Dean of the Faculty of Social Work at the University of Manitoba and a basic income scholar and advocate, says conference participants intend to go beyond discussing Basic Income as a somewhat vague understanding “to mapping out how to make it a reality through cooperation among various levels of governments and civil society organizations.”

NABIG is in Winnipeg this year from May 12-15 at the University of Manitoba. It expects to draw scores of people from across Canada and the U.S. and some from overseas. The focus, though, is North America, where the Basic Income Canada Network (BICN) and the United States Basic Income Guarantee Network (USBIG) compare notes and come with ideas for basic income developments through speakers and break-out sessions.

Basic income is developing more swiftly in Canada along the political spectrum. There is a groundswell of support from mayors and municipalities. The Province of Ontario is committed to do a basic income pilot project in the coming year. Quebec is also looking how to change its existing income supports to a system that looks more like Basic Income. Even the federal government seems to be open to exploring the policy in conjunction with the provinces.

Also known as guaranteed minimum income, guaranteed annual income, or a negative income tax, basic income would replace various welfare programs by providing a base amount of income to all citizens, regardless of whether they work or meet a means test.

Mulvale says the NABIG congress for this year “will bring together people from Canada and the United States who are involved in changing the conversation on income security.”

“The message of Basic Income activists is resonating with citizens in general – that the old models of income security” are falling away, he says.

Such concepts as the “male breadwinner” family, the “full employment” economy, and means-tested, demeaning income support programs “are no are longer working in the 21st century,” says Mulvale.

The professor says one key theme of the NABIG congress will be how Basic Income approaches can contribute to empowerment of and reconciliation with the Indigenous peoples of “Turtle Island” – also known as North America.

Mulvale says this year’s congress will carefully examine policy design questions and costing scenarios “to help move us towards Basic Income programs that can gain broad public support and traction with key political decision-makers.”

In Canada, Mulvale notes the new federal government sees a positive role for itself in ensuring the collective welfare. In the United States, the professor says innovative policy approaches are also being considered and debated within an election year.