What Kind of Canada Do You Want?

A basic income guarantee is more than just an income program. Guaranteeing all Canadians an income that pays for food, clothing, heat and shelter speaks volumes about the principles on which we base our society.

Such a society is fundamentally based on a belief that all people deserve respect and dignity as persons, and on a belief that we all have a duty to uphold and protect the dignity of all — what we receive, we also must give.

A basic income guarantee is a feature of a society in which people are not just isolated individuals but rather are selves in relation to one another, where people are treated with fairness and equality. It is a society that understands we are not alone in any endeavour we undertake.

It means that just as we view our liberties as our rights, and health as a fundamental part of being Canadian, that our basic income too is a part of the fabric of what it is to be a Canadian.

A society the embraces a basic income is a society where genuine opportunity is available for all Canadians. It means our society is structured to give an equal hand up to all Canadians so that we can equitably pursue our opportunities, hopes and dreams. It means that meaningful work and other activities are maximally supported by all of us while the anxieties and insecurities that precariousness brings are avoided.

It is a sophisticated society that understands that equity cannot be ignored and disparity cannot be allowed to grow to the degree where we distrust one another or where we feel the need to vilify classes unlike our own. Rather, it is a Canada where we can all care for one another. Parents are supported to raise their children in an environment free from poverty, where meals are not missed and children can focus on their education, not on the basics of life. Entrepreneurs are supported to focus on building their businesses and driving the economy forward without fear of jeopardizing the safety and security of their families.

This Canada is envisioned as an efficient resource allocator, where we can do without food banks, homeless shelters and the poverty industry. Imagine your community being without these things because the demand for them has disappeared.

Does this sound like an out-of-reach utopia? Perhaps on the surface it does. However, when we examine the potential effects and benefits of a basic income, we realize that such a society is not far out of reach. It reflects a Canada worthy of working toward. Ours is a nation that has progressed from bare beginnings to an advanced, industrialized nation without losing our sense of compassion and community. Just as we have embraced universal access to health care as a reflection of our basic sense of empathy as well as sound, evidence-based policy, so too does a basic income offer us sound economic policy that still reflects our core Canadian values.

Now imagine a society that forgets about income for its citizens, but rather views income as the realm of only the very well to do—a country with huge disparity and large populations living in squalor. Data on countries such as these suggest people are treated disrespectfully and people are forced to look out solely for themselves. Such societies have low levels of trust among classes. So, security barriers between classes are therefore common and can be severe. With low trust and scarce resources for the majority, crime in these countries is high. Wealth is not secure and tactics like property expropriations are used to equalize wealth. Opportunity is low in these countries, with education being accessed only by the rich. Good health care services are available only to those with wealth, so everyone experiences poorer health and shorter lives.

The contrast is clear. It is time to ask ourselves, what type of society do we want Canada to be in 10, 20, and 50 years? Do we really want our retirement years or future generations’ lives to be lived without dignity? Do we want equal opportunity for all or opportunity restricted to a few? These are not rhetorical questions, but serious considerations. We need to build today to plan for future generations to ensure the continuity of the society we want to have. How we think of basic income and what we base it upon say much about what this society ought to be. What kind of Canada do you want?

This blog was posted on June 20, 2014 by Kelly Ernst, then Secretary General, Basic Income Canada Network.