With the exception of climate change, the most significant and most important change that I would pursue in Parliament is the change in the way that income support is delivered. Instead of the current inefficient hodge-podge of programmes that stigmatize users and can often discourage moves to independence, I would promote a guaranteed livable income which explicitly recognizes our commitment to deliver the basic necessities to every Canadian. From this base, all Canadians would have an incentive to work to their ability in order to build a better life for themselves and their families.
We are spending a lot of money to keep people in poverty. It is not only morally wrong, it is stupid too.
Canada now guarantees that no Canadian will ever go hungry or cold. However, access to adequate income support is complicated. We have unemployment insurance, old age pensions, guaranteed income supplements, disability support, welfare, housing support, food banks, homeless shelters. Many people who most need support are overwhelmed by the demands of children, family members with special needs or their own physical and emotional limitations. Rather than enabling them to do the best they can, we burden them with additional challenges of navigating complex bureaucracies and means testing, poke into their private affairs and punish them for attempting to pull themselves out of poverty with the threat of denying the basics if ever they are able to find a part-time or temporary job they can handle. Waiting lists for housing are over a decade long. A number of studies have shown that support for the homeless is more expensive than providing homes. This system perpetuates poverty not only for those in need now, but often for their children as well.
Quite simply, a Guaranteed Annual Income would guarantee every Canadian the essentials of life with guaranteed support, either through monthly payments or through a negative income tax. In either case, this basic income would be slowly taxed back as employment and other income increased so that the cost to the government overall would be no greater. However, we could eliminate the enormous bureaucracies required to ensure that every applicant for every income support programme is truly in need of it.
The Guaranteed Annual Income has advocates from both ends of the political spectrum. Conservative economists like Milton Friedman, Hugh Segal, Reginald Stackhouse and Tom Courchene promote it because it eliminates the need for expensive and often overlapping bureaucracies, and because conventional income support programmes discourage work by cutting supplements for those with incomes, forcing people into perpetual dependence. Left-liberal economists and thinkers concerned about social justice like Daniel Patrick Moynihan, John Raulston Saul, and the Canadian feminists who signed onto a statement supporting a guaranteed income in Pictou in 2004, favour the Guaranteed Annual Income because it eliminates the stigma of living in need and the intrusion of the government into the affairs of its most vulnerable citizens.
Our current patchwork of bureaucratically heavy income support programmes keeps people in poverty at tremendous expense to the Canadian taxpayer.
The only real challenge to changing the way we do things is the complexity of undoing dozens of overlapping programmes at all levels of government and integrating them all into a single, efficient and comprehensive delivery vehicle. But as we enter economically challenging times, we need to stop doing things that are expensive and counterproductive just because that’s the way we’ve always done it. And when jobs are threatened, we need more than ever to ensure that all Canadians are guaranteed the basics.