The Next Canadian Legacy: A Basic Income for All

There are few projects in Canadian history that have inspired the dreams of the country. Grand projects that come along enabling politicians to build something for their fellow Canadians, and simultaneously make all of our lives truly better, are indeed rare. The basic income guarantee has the potential to be the next big legacy project in Canada. Which leader will leave a legacy by building a positive new reality for Canadians? Who will be the next big dreamer? Which Canadian will have the courage to move Canada up to the next level?

History tells us that Sir John A. MacDonald had a dream of a country when he undertook confederation and then the building of a railroad from one coast to another. Tommy Douglas will forever be known for his dream-come-true universal health care system. Pierre Trudeau envisioned a just society and gave us all the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Political allegiances and likes or dislikes aside, we can say that each of these leaders dreamed of a better country, each had a unique dream, each made his dream a reality, and we all have benefited as a result. Today few people can imagine a Canada without these leaders’ contributions.

It is far too easy to enact policy that fosters the self-interest of a few; it is the fuel for much of the political cynicism of today. Law-making that ensures the dignity and prosperity of all is vastly more difficult. It takes immense political courage and stamina to enact big dreams. A basic income guarantee for all Canadians could possibly be the next ambitious legacy idea.

Imagine for a moment the legacy that a universal basic income could bring to Canadians. Imagine a Canada without poverty. Imagine too the closure of food banks across the land due to a lack of need for them. Imagine a program that gets homeless people out of shelters and into secure and sustainable homes. Imagine a country where, when you become disabled or elderly, you don’t have to worry about paying for rent and food. This Canada not only ensures opportunities are not lost simply because people are too busy scraping by to pay for heat and meals, but actually protects people so they may concentrate on bettering their lives and those of future generations.

Imagine a Canada that requires less government because a basic income is seen as a citizen’s right and dividend, not something needing thousands of rules to manage people’s eligibility to receive. It is a Canada that sees the economic efficiency in ensuring wealth is distributed and not hoarded among just a few. It is a country with less economic disparity and greater equality. Imagine a Canada where children no longer live in poverty. It is a Canada where women are seen to have equal value to men. This is a Canada where health care costs associated with poverty are virtually eliminated. Image a Canada where jails are not needed to house people who commit crimes to pay for their basic needs.

It is a ground-breaking vision for our country and possible with one simple program. Forward-thinking economists and politicians have called for a basic income implementation for decades. They see not only the possibility of the concept, but also its viability and positive results.

Who will be the next political leader to implement such a universal, unconditional and sensible vision of Canada? Will it be someone from our current crop of leaders? Who among them or their successors will have the courage and progressive thinking to change Canada for the benefit of all? We can’t predict this, but the legacy is open for the taking. Regardless, it will take you to make the first step in designing a new way forward. The people of Canada will first be the ones to demand such a legacy of courage.

This blog was posted on June 8, 2014 by Kelly Ernst, then Secretary General, Basic Income Canada Network.