New Brunswick advocate pushes his province on basic income

Roderick Benns

SHEDIAC–It was 46 years ago when Armand Bannister and his team released their white paper on social development that urged the adoption of a basic income guarantee in New Brunswick.

As director of the task force on social development, Bannister presented it to then-Premier Richard Hatfield who had just begun his unprecedented 17-year run as premier.

But Hatfield squandered this opportunity, as history shows, and instead Manitoba took the lead on basic income with the support of then-Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, in its well-known Mincome experiment.

New Brunswick has never looked at it seriously again, although that might be set to change, if Bannister has anything to say about it. That’s because 46 years later, the 82-year-old advocate has never given up the fight for basic income and sees a golden opportunity with the movement growing stronger than ever, from Ontario, to Prince Edward Island, to British Columbia and Quebec.

“Now we have another Trudeau in power,” says Bannister, referring to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

“The first thing he did was to call a First Minister’s conference,” and that’s a good sign, he says. He also points out that Trudeau’s emphasis on social development, with the expanded Canada Child Benefit, is step in the right direction. As well, Jean-Yves Duclos is minister of families, children, and social development, and Duclos has been known to be open to basic income.

Bannister has met with many federal MPs, senators, and ministers at both the federal and provincial levels. He seems to have the ear of several Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) in the Liberal New Brunswick government of Premier Brian Gallant. He hopes to meet with federal Green Party leader, Elizabeth May, later this summer.

“There are many passionate people in this province who want basic income,” says Bannister in an interview in downtown Shediac, New Brunswick.

When asked why he supports basic income, Bannister says there is “a great need for more compassion, so people can meet their basic needs.”

“That truth has stayed with me since 1970, when that white paper was released,” he says.

He comes by his compassion honestly, noting that his father was involved in an early form of community development work through his efforts to help kids with polio. He, too, served as a civil servant in the Provincial government.

Bannister says it also makes good economic sense not to let people with lower incomes suffer, so they can better contribute to local economies and have better health outcomes.

“And it doesn’t make sense on a human rights level, either,” he asserts.

When Bannister thinks of the power of basic income to change lives, he often thinks of entrepreneurs and artists of all kinds.

“If people like this had a basic income they could do so much more. We are wasting human talent and human potential.”

Bannister doesn’t buy the two main arguments against basic income – that we can’t afford it and that it will ‘make people lazy.’

“We’ve heard the same thing since 1970 and the facts (from other basic income experiments) don’t bear this out,” he says.

“The truth is, it’s poverty that we can’t afford. And we have to remember that it’s the economy that serves society.”