Three Mulroney-era Tories open to moving basic income forward

Roderick Benns

Opinion

At least three federal Conservatives, all of whom served in former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s governments, are open to trying basic income guarantee pilots – and there could be more.

The dominant Progressive Conservative voice is Hugh Segal, a key driver of a basic income policy for decades and the key advisor on Ontario’s pilot project. He served as chief of staff to Mulroney and was a Canadian senator from 2005-2014. Segal was also chief of staff for former Ontario Premier, Bill Davis.

Another retired Progressive Conservative Senator, Michael Meighen, campaigned for a guaranteed annual income in his unsuccessful bids for a seat under Robert Stanfield. He told the Precarious Work Chronicle in 2015 that basic income is “very attractive on paper.”

“That’s where pilot projects come in – we have to test it,” said Meighen, who noted that if the pilots are successful, then the policy becomes easier to sell, politically.

Meighen is a well-known lawyer and philanthropist and the grandson of former Prime Minister Arthur Meighen.

Perrin Beatty, who served under three prime ministers – Joe Clark, Brian Mulroney, and Kim Campbell – held multiple ministries, including National Revenue, Defence, and National Health and Welfare. He told the Precarious Work Chronicle last month that automation is a challenge to the employment landscape and basic income might be part of the answer.

Beatty currently serves as CEO of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.

The former Progressive Conservative minister said “for older workers with families, precarious temporary work is obviously a problem.”

“So we do have to find better ways to support them.”

Beatty says he likes the idea of a basic income that “boosts low-wage salaries” to attract more people into the labour force, since there has been a rise in discouraged workers who have given up looking for work.

And, since almost all of the new high-paying jobs in the service sector are being created in the big cities like Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal,” Beatty noted a basic income “could be a big help in smaller, rural economies.”

A basic income, as defined by the Basic Income Canada Network, “ensures everyone an income sufficient to meet basic needs and live with dignity, regardless of work status.”

The imminent Ontario pilot on basic income is expected to bring people up to at least 75 percent of the low-income measure.

Tories and feds key to growing basic income support

If basic income is to move its support beyond the left and centrist parties in the coming years, efforts will need to be made to bring more Conservative voices on side. Governments come and go, so far always alternating between Liberals and Conservatives at the federal level. If enough Tories see the value of a basic income guarantee that not only strikes down poverty as we know it, but also provides an economic shock absorption for a precarious middle class, then more will come on board.

What will be equally important is ensuring the Conservative voices that dominate are moderates, lest the whole basic income, social policy legacy unravel into an ugly, libertarian vision where everyone is cut a check and social services are stripped away. That is not the kind of basic income we want.

A well-designed basic income should eliminate welfare programs, yes, but not the other underpinnings of a successful society, including childcare and housing supports.

Federal involvement

In addition to support from Canada’s moderate right, it’s also imperative that our current Liberal federal government move to actively support those provinces who are trying to test or implement basic income policy. This includes Ontario, Quebec, and Prince Edward Island. Eventually, a national program can be envisioned, supported and guided by federal involvement.

Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, is an economist and has studied basic income. He knows there is merit in such a progressive social policy. He has an opportunity now to remember the prescient Special Senate Committee on Poverty’s report released in 1968 and chaired by Senator David Croll.

In that year – the very same year that universal public health care spread out across Canada – this unflinchingly written report declared even then that Canada was ready for a basic income guarantee:

“It is the Committee’s recommendation that the Parliament of Canada enact legislation to provide a guaranteed minimum income for all Canadians with insufficient income. This includes the…unemployed, those whose incomes are too low because they work in seasonal occupations, and those who are victims of jobs where the pay is insufficient to provide for their basic needs.”

For the benefit of all Canadians, let’s expand our social and economic security through the power of a progressive basic income. Here’s hoping the federal government — and more Conservatives — will speak out for this vision.