Time to put basic income guarantee to work in Ontario

By Jamie Swift
Hamilton Spectator

Last month an energetic Ontario anti-poverty coalition issued a sharp critique of Ontario's social assistance policy. The Put Food in the Budget coalition condemned government consultations and studies as "diversionary tactics" and "empty promises."

The activists want welfare rates raised. While certainly necessary, tinkering with a wholly dysfunctional system is far from sufficient.

In his new book, Utopia for Realists: The Case for a Universal Basic Income, Open Borders and a 15-hour Workweek, Dutch writer Rutger Bregman argues that social justice advocates need to turn away from gloom-and-doom and what he describes as "underdog" activism. 

Underdogs have been reduced to naysayers. Against austerity. Against privatization. Against the one per cent. While sharing such positions, Bregman asks a fundamental question: What are the underdogs actually for?

He urges social justice advocates to embrace more imaginative ideas. Increasing welfare rates (or similar small asks) won't galvanize widespread political support or offer that optimistic vision of the future.

A basic, livable income (BIG, or Basic Income Guarantee) offers just such a vision. Yet some social justice advocates are suspicious, fearing BIG is simply a stalling tactic; if implemented the income would be set too low, serving as an excuse for eliminating stingy social programs already eroded by apostles of austerity. 

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