Caron says precarious work can be offset by incentives, basic income

Roderick Benns

Federal New Democratic Party leadership hopeful, Guy Caron, says the world economy is changing rapidly and some of Canada’s policies are “stuck in the 1950s.”

Caron, a Quebec MP and former economist with the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada, says there is no doubt that precarious work “is a large issue.”

“It’s the symptom of a larger problem in our economy, the way it has been restructured…with a focus on privatization, deregulation, and trade agreements,” he says.

“This has deeply affected us and we need to begin the hard work of restructuring our economy.”

Caron says the private sector must understand that short-term thinking, such as not offering decent work for decent pay, will have a significant impact for everyone. He says an NDP government led by him would create better incentives to create full-time jobs for workers. Unions, too, must be a part of that solution, he says, “and they understand that.”

“They know what these challenges are to the economy and they will want to contribute to solutions, like the need for restructuring.”

However, Caron says he is also realistic and knows that automation is a very real phenomenon that is irreversible and there will be a great deal of employment disruption. According to the Brookfield Institute, about 42 percent of Canadian jobs are at high risk from automation in the next 10 to 20 years. The jobs most at risk are in industries such as trades, transportation and equipment operation, natural resources and agriculture, sales and services, manufacturing and utilities, administration and office support.

To that end, he also supports a basic income guarantee (in the form of a negative income tax), to ensure that no on would drop below the low income cut-off.

“At that point, we will have effectively eliminated poverty, to help people meet their basic needs. Then they (employees) can actually concentrate on the transitions they face” due to automation or other employment disruptions, he explains.

“Basic income is not a miracle solution but it would eliminate part of the uncertainty workers are facing.”

Caron says that Canada needs to “restructure the tax system, which is stuck in the 1950s.”

Given that so many people are in precarious work or in self-employment now, Caron says one idea would include the government being more flexible at tax time. He says if a self-employed person has a decent income for two years for instance, but then has a tough time in the third year, then the government could revisit the last couple years of taxation for that person so that they might actually get a tax credit in the third year.

Caron’s version of basic income is a fully integrated model with a strong social safety net overall – not a program for rolling back gains made in other social service areas.

“I want to see a full-fledged federal program for basic income,” he says.

The NDP leadership race will be held sometime in October. The other candidates in the race are Niki Ashton, Charlie Angus, and Peter Julian.