Blaikie supports basic income concept, but says now it must be defined

By Roderick Benns

NDP Winnipeg MP Dan Blaikie says he is proud of his party’s recent support of the principle of basic income and says now the work beings to actually define what this means.

Blaikie – considered to be one of the most promising new MPs in Parliament – says he has “long been interested in the idea.”

He points out that the recent resolution in support of basic income at the party’s Edmonton convention was to affirm the party’s support for the concept, study it further, and to support a pilot project.

“I was first concerned to get my party on board, to take a bottom up approach,” Blaikie tells Leaders and Legacies.

For the new MP, he says his support for the principle of basic income is driven by his strong belief in social and economic justice. He also wants to prevent more conservative-minded legislators from using it as an excuse to support the dismantling of the entire social safety net.

“I’ve long advocated for social and economic justice, and an important component of that is income,” he says.

Blaikie says that right wing thinkers “sometimes try to approach this (basic income issue) with the idea we should diminish services and pull the rug out from people.” But the NDP MP says we will still need things like mental health supports, addiction supports, and affordable housing…still need to continue these ensure things.

Since the NDP has a strong history of social justice, Blaikie feels that “we should be in this debate” in order to help shape the idea.

“The issue of basic income is up for grabs about how to define it. I think the overall concept is what’s important because we know that people who have less income are more likely to fall into cycles of poverty,” he says.

Despite his support for basic income as a concept, Blaikie feels it would still be valuable to increase existing supports compared to the status quo, if basic income was deemed unaffordable. This could include topping up the Working Income Tax Benefit, Canada Pension Plan and Old Age Security, among other programs.

“Whether it’s by slowly increasing those existing supports and expanding them or whether we have full basic income, that’s up for grabs,” said Blaikie.

When challenged that topping up existing benefits would not address precarious work in all its forms, Blaikie noted that “serious” Employment Insurance reform could help offset this.

“This is a policy option. We certainly need to recognize the changing nature of work in Canadian society.”

The MP says if the approach ends up being to slowly expand the existing ring of benefits out, “it’s better than nothing.”

“We know the status quo is not good enough,” he says.

That being said, Blaikie notes, government revenue has been in decline for some time, from income tax to corporate tax rates.

“The idea that sufficient money isn’t out there (to fund basic income) is something I’m not convinced of.”

Blaikie says that a discussion about our income-generating options as a society has to happen.

“If the choice is to do all at once or nothing, I think it’s a false choice.”