A former senator doesn’t expect Conservatives, New Democrats, and Liberals in this election campaign to talk about a guaranteed annual income to lift struggling Canadians out of poverty.
“I don’t think any of the three major parties have the courage to address it,” Hugh Segal told the Straight in a phone interview regarding the idea of topping up people’s incomes if they fall beneath a poverty threshold, no questions asked.
“In some measures, it’s seen to be a simple answer to a complex problem, and I think they’re afraid that because there are many, many different ways of costing, it will produce some misapprehension of their fiscal responsibility,” the ex Conservative senator said.
Part of the problem, according to Segal, head of the University of Toronto’s Massey College, is the right-wing notion that if you pay people unearned money, they will do nothing. This is thought “without taking into consideration that the vast majority of Canadians who live under the poverty line actually have a job”.
Segal said that the left, on the other hand, has a “bias that says the only way to deal with poverty is by having minutely programmed and designed provincial jurisdiction activities that help people with their problems”.
Laura Lamb, an economist and associate professor at Thompson Rivers University, said a guaranteed-annual-income program can be administered through the federal taxation system.
“From an economics perspective, I think that it is probably the most effective and efficient way of addressing poverty,” Lamb told the Straight by phone.
At its 2014 convention, the Liberal Party adopted a resolution endorsing the concept of a guaranteed income. But according to Liberal Vancouver Centre MP Hedy Fry, “people across the country…Canadians, not Liberals” have indicated to the party that they don’t think this system works.
Hence, Fry said, Liberals are going to address poverty by focusing on issues like housing, childcare, and income stability for seniors.
“It isn’t a magic bullet,” Fry told the Straight about the concept of establishing a poverty level below which no one should fall. “One size does not fit all.”
Of Fry’s two major challengers, neither Constance Barnes of the NDP nor Elaine Allan of the Conservatives granted the Straight an interview about the subject. Green Vancouver Centre candidate Lisa Barrett noted that her party’s platform includes replacing various federal and provincial income-assistance programs with a “guaranteed livable income”.
“At first it looks complicated, but then you actually bear in mind that that was the argument for not having a national universal health-care system,” Barrett told the Straight by phone. “And so it went from provincial health care [starting in Saskatchewan during the 1940s] to a national one by eliminating overlapping programs.”
Vancouver antipoverty activist Adrienne Montani believes that the idea of a basic guaranteed income is good, but she noted that the program has to be designed well.
“Our social safety nets seem rather shredded at the current time, so people are falling through it and living way below poverty, even if they’re working,” Montani told the Straight by phone.