Support for Basic Income from multi-faith group in Toronto

By Roderick Benns

As Ontario gets set to introduce a Basic Income pilot in April of next year, Ayesha Valliani has been a part of a multi-faith approach call to action in support of the policy.

Last month in Toronto, Valliani served on the organizing committee for a Basic Income symposium, which was hosted in collaboration with the Christian-Jewish Dialogue, with very strong interfaith support from across the city.

Organizational partners of the event were the Christian Jewish Dialogue of Toronto, University of St. Michael’s College, and Massey College, with funding from essentially every faith community, says Valliani.

Valliani first heard about Basic Income policy when she was a junior fellow at Massey College. Master of Massey College, the Honourable Hugh Segal, is one of the key voices in the Basic Income movement in Canada. Valliani soon learned about the social policy through Segal’s advocacy.

The intention for the multi-faith dialogue was not to debate the pros and cons of Basic Income for Ontario, Valliani says. Those who participated were already sold on the idea. This included people from the business sector, all three levels of government, anti-poverty advocates, researchers, and representatives from the innovative finance sector.

“There really was an inter-faith call to action,” that day, says Valliani, who notes the symposium was led by Barbara Borak, who serves as executive director of the Christian-Jewish Dialogue.

“This event really brought together faith leaders to speak out about poverty and Basic Income. Faith leaders have an important role to play in advocating for their constituencies but also for these important social issues,” says Valliani.

The multi-faith group’s goal, she says, is to maintain the momentum behind a Basic Income as the pilot begins and carries on over the next several years.

“We’ll be sharing information and listening to others on what it means with the communities on the ground. Our role will be to help translate the community level dialogue back up to government.”

Valliani says there hasn’t been a lot of input from faith communities and from those who have lived experience with poverty, including indigenous communities.

“Hearing from people with lived experience with poverty has to be part of the goal. They have a stake in it, so any good policy has to be informed by those with lived experience,” she says.

During the multi-faith symposium on Basic Income last month, she says the people who actually had lived experience with poverty “spoke eloquently” about what it was like.

“From the day to day struggles, to navigating the various bureaucratic structures…everyone put their phones away and actually listened to them.”

Valliani says she gets the sense that more and more people are realizing that building a strong society is not just attempting to create jobs and then hoping “people will pull themselves up by their bootstraps and make a living.”

“It’s a whole interconnected series of things that will allow someone to live with dignity — or not.”

Segal, who recently delivered his recommendations to the Ontario government about Basic Income, recommends a minimum income of at least $1,320 for a single person. This would bring them up to about 75 percent of the province’s poverty line. For those with disabilities, Segal suggests a top-up of another $500 a month.

“I think most people realize that individuals find personal satisfaction and a sense of self worth when they work,” she says, which is why she is not worried about any possible work disincentives with a Basic Income.

“But in order to do work and be engaged in your community you need a sense of security, even though it’s not a life of luxury,” Valliani says. “The structure of the state impacts how people live.”

She recalls a conversation she had recently with a citizenship judge about dying with dignity.

“He wanted to know why we care so much about dying with dignity, but not so much about living with dignity.”

The work of the multi-faith Basic Income initiative is slated to continue. Valliani says the diverse group of ideologically committed people hopes to develop a set of values and principles that will carry the project forward.