The Energy Mix

Sheila Regehr has been chair of the Basic Income Canada Network since 2014. She’s a retired federal public servant with years of experience working on income security, and past executive director of the National Council of Welfare. With the federal Speech from the Throne coming up today, she explains how a basic income builds up communities, reduces anxiety, and makes a whole host of problems easier to solve—including the climate crisis.

The Energy Mix: What’s the basic argument for a basic income?

Regehr: That’s the most difficult question to start with because it’s so all-encompassing. The very basic idea is that everyone is part of society and the economy. Everyone should be able to participate and benefit from it. In our modern world that takes money. It’s a matter of human rights and dignity, and it’s a common good, the idea of sharing resources.

But our systems of income security and social protection don’t do that nearly well enough. That’s why we see what COVID has just magnified enormously for us, that we’ve got these problems of poverty, inequality, insecurity, anxiety, systemic discrimination that we’ve been fighting for a long time but obviously haven’t made very many dents.

That plays out in precarious employment, and one of the things we notice is that Alberta is a heavy user of the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) because of the particular situation in the fossil fuel industry and the layoffs due to COVID. But young people are another vulnerable demographic segment that’s really been helped by CERB. You’ve got young people entering a labour market that is very challenging for them, and nothing in the future looks better, particularly with companies now automating more in response to COVID.

Then you have the societal disruption, the over-policing, and the physical and mental health crises that were afflicting us before COVID hit. And people who come to it from the food security community, knowing that food banks aren’t the answer. Incomes are the answer.

In all of these situations and more, a basic income ensures there’s a foundation for everyone. It doesn’t solve everything, but it makes problems easier to tackle, and climate change is one of them.

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