Former Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin supports basic income

Roderick Benns

Former Prime Minister Paul Martin has spoken out in favour of a basic income guarantee, saying there is “merit” in this policy tool to help lower income Canadians.

Martin is the first former prime minister to speak out about this policy, currently being studied in Ontario through a new pilot project set up in three centres across the province.

“I think there is merit in it,” he tells the Precarious Work Chronicle.

“Studies have shown it could work well for some families who need this money to bring them up to a certain level,” Martin says.

A basic income, also known as a guaranteed annual income, is a payment to eligible individuals that ensures a minimum level of income to meet basic needs and live with dignity, regardless of work status.

The former prime minister served as the 21st prime minister of Canada from December 2003, to February 2006. He is known for his active work on behalf of indigenous Canadians through his Martin Family Initiative, says when it comes to First Nations’ people, though, other things need to happen first.

He says when one looks at many indigenous communities “the problems are in housing, clean water, and support for health and education.”

“So my focus would be there, first,” he says, pointing out basic income is “not a panacea.”

“But I support the concept of a guaranteed annual income.”

Last fall Ontario appointed former Senator Hugh Segal to provide advice on the design and implementation of a basic income pilot. In the latest budget the Ontario government announced that Hamilton/Brantford, Thunder Bay, and Lindsay would all receive pilot projects this year.

In addition to Martin, many high profile Canadian politicians have been speaking out in favour of at least testing basic income through pilots, from Senator Art Eggleton, to retired Tory Senator Michael Meighen, and former Tory cabinet minister Perrin Beatty, showing the policy’s appeal across party lines.

The Quebec Liberal government has also hinted strongly in its recent budget that some kind of basic income guarantee is forthcoming, although likely only for a portion of the province to begin with.