Conference at Ryerson University on new economy and basic income this month

Roderick Benns 

An upcoming conference hosted by Ryerson University in Toronto will bring together over 250 people from academia, community, government, industry, law, unions and the workforce to examine the potential of basic income. 

Dubbed ‘The New Economy and a Basic Income Guarantee’ the gathering will aim to “identify changes to the nature of employment, labour and work” that are pushing workers into more precarious employment arrangements.

A basic income guarantee could provide every Canadian with an income sufficient to meet their minimal needs and live with dignity. 

“We really are trying to focus on what we ‘know’ both from theory and crucially the evidence from past basic income experiments,” says Professor Rafael Gomez, Director of the Centre for Industrial Relations and Human Resources at University of Toronto, and one of the event’s organizers. 

He says it’s important to take stock of how “the world of work has changed in the years since the last raft of basic income experiments were carried out almost 40 years ago,” in Dauphin, Manitoba. 

Gomez says the conference will confront these issues from an academic lens, with no particular bias one way or the other about the potential of a basic income. 

“This is not a panacea for all that ails our society, nor is it an evil right wing or left wing plot…designed to free everyone from the hard work of building a better society,” he says. 

“Rather it is a policy tool,” says Gomez, one among many that deserves robust policy discussions. 

Maurice Mazerolle, Associate Professor, Organizational Behaviour and Human Resource Management at Ryerson, and a co-organizer, says one of the key reasons for looking at this issue is to try and understand what the “labour market response” would be to a basic income. 

“For example, will employers have to increase wages to attract employees or will they substitute technology?” he asks. 

Other questions Mazerolle would like answers to are: 

  • Will employers respond by increasing the number of temporary foreign workers?
  • Will people receiving basic income be able to start their own business?
  • Will people use a guaranteed income as collateral to get a business loan?
  • Will they go back to school?
  • Will people increase their engagement in their local community instead of seeking employment in the formal economy?

 Mazerolle says the biggest concern “is to make sure that it is not seen as welfare by another name.” 

"Selling this as an economic stabilizer along the lines of Employment Insurance that is available to all Canadians is key,” he says. 

He adds the second biggest concern is the cost of any basic income program. 

The conference at Ryerson will also “review the fundamentals, history, and purpose” of a basic income guarantee, according to the program, and “explore the relationship between a basic income guarantee policy option and the broader politics of labour policy and redistribution in Ontario.” 

After the conference is over, organizers envision a special volume to come out of the event, co-published by the University of Toronto and Ryerson University. 

For more information about the conference, and to register, click here.