By Roderick Benns
Publisher of Leaders and Legacies, a social purpose news site
The best story Ron Hikel ever heard about the famous ‘Mincome’ experiment from the 1970s has to do with a simple pick-up truck.
Mincome stands for minimum income – something that was given to about a third of the people who lived in Dauphin, Manitoba. It was a bold experiment started by the federal Liberal government to see what people would do with free money from the state.
Ron Hikel was the executive director of the Mincome project, a program that ran from from 1974 through 1978. When a Dutch TV crew showed up at his doorstep last year in Toronto to talk to him about Mincome, they then went on to Dauphin where the experiment had made everyone in the town eligible to apply for monthly income supplementation, based on earned income and family size.
Hikel says they found and filmed a local farming family who, according to the surviving mother and son, Clarke Williams, told the film crew an interesting story. Back in the mid-70s, the family relied on two old trucks but badly needed a new one.
“So the mother put aside enough of the monthly ‘Mincome money’, Hikel tells Leaders and Legacies, “to make the down payment on a new truck.”
Hikel says the family didn’t have to sell off any of the precious livestock they owned and relied upon for income. The new truck was purchased before the end of the Mincome experiment and the family ran the vehicle for 25 straight years.
In the film, Clarke leads the documentary makers out into a field and shows them the old blue GMC truck, with a battery still in it, sitting quietly there to this day.
Hikel says he thinks of this vehicle as the ‘Mincome truck,’ an example of the “productively invested use of the Mincome money to sustain a family’s livelihood and independence, for more than two decades.”
Though Mincome ended prematurely in the late 1970s, momentum continues to build to create some form of basic income guarantee for Canadians to ensure that no one would ever drop below the poverty line. This would ultimately usher in the end of the welfare system.
Jean-Yves Duclos, federal minister of families, children and social development, stated to both CBC Radio and the Globe and Mail recently that a guaranteed minimum income is a policy worthy of discussion.