By Roderick Benns
Publisher of Leaders and Legacies, a social purpose news site
It’s not something federal Liberal leader Justin Trudeau will be allowed to forget, if Senator Art Eggleton has his way. Early in 2014, at a Liberal policy convention, two resolutions were made and accepted by delegates that steer the Liberal Party of Canada toward a basic income guarantee for working-age Canadians.
Eggleton says this is significant, and he has been talking it up wherever he goes.
“I take some delight in what happened at the Liberal convention in the spring,” he tells Leaders and Legacies. “And when I recently saw Justin I reminded him of that — and I told him he should promise” that Liberals will make this a reality.
Eggleton refers to resolution number 97 (Basic Income Supplement: Testing a Dignified Approach to Income Security for Working-age Canadians) and resolution number 100 (Creating a Basic Annual Income to be Designed and Implemented for a Fair Economy), both of which were adopted by federal Liberal delegates.
Eggleton says Trudeau “listened and recognized what I was talking about” but was non-committal in his face-to-face meeting with the senator.
“But I’ve been planting the seed with others members of his caucus as well,” laughs Eggleton.
One thing the Liberal senator says is important to kick-start the program is to create a pilot project. The example of Mincome, in Dauphin, Manitoba, is now dated and a fresh approach to a pilot project would be of great value for researchers and policy analysts.
“In order to build political will we need a contemporary pilot project, and I’m hopeful that’s what we can do.”
Eggleton says a pilot project is the best way to dispel concerns that people will give up working if their basic needs are met. A basic income guarantee, he says, “isn’t the good life, it’s the basics.”
“The vast majority of people want to do more than that. We use up enormous resources of thought examining whether or not people will stop working if we ensure they aren’t in poverty. This just isn’t true. Our worry that people are going to laze around and not get jobs is ludicrous.”
As the Mincome experiment from the 1970s showed, says the senator, is that the small percentage of people who did stop working were mothers who wanted to stay home with their young children for a bit longer or youth who wanted to finish school.
“I’d say both of those are good things.”
Eggleton – as a four-term Toronto mayor — was recently appointed by Mayor John Tory to head a task force charged with examining the governance of Toronto’s social housing corporation. With regard to affordable housing, Eggleton believes that social housing will still be around, even with a basic income guarantee.
“We do need people who work at various levels, at various wages, in a mixed economy. But Toronto is expensive. Some people will have a difficult time in finding suitable housing. Commutes are expensive in time and money,” the senator says.
“We will always need housing suitable for different income levels. Childhood education is also a key thing. A basic income is just basic – it can’t be everything.” But, says the senator, it’s a great start.
Eggleton says that he hopes a basic income guarantee proposal will be firmly adopted “by one or more parties” that are firmly committed to doing a pilot project.