Editorial: Minimum guaranteed income upsides

Instituting a guaranteed minimum income program in Canada is guaranteed to be controversial and complicated. But its upsides, if instituted with financial responsibility, could be significant, because providing a base level of financial livability for families and individuals and eliminating the multi-layered bureaucracies administering government social safety net programs today would contribute to the country’s overall social and economic well-being.

Proposals for government guarantees of a minimum level of income for its citizenry dates as far back at least to Thomas Paine and the American Revolution. But, as with so many of today’s economic, human resource and social issues, the COVID-19 pandemic has cast it in a new light. Automation and the uncertainty of work in a wide range of sectors have bolstered arguments supporting a universal minimum income. But its public costs remain a key sticking point. That sticking point and other financial aspects of providing a guaranteed minimum income in Canada are the subject of a Canadian Centre for Economic Analysis report presented in December with UBI Works, a Canadian non-profit lobbying for a universal basic income. UBI claims, for example, that a guaranteed basic income could add an average of $36 billion annually to the country’s economy, create 298,000 full-time jobs and lift 3.2 million Canadian families out of poverty in its first five years. And that is without relying on debt financing to support the program. But numbers apart, the bottom-line case for providing citizens and families with a guaranteed minimum income is reducing the most debilitating social and economic costs of poverty and opening windows of opportunity for millions of Canadians who today do not have the resources to move beyond basic survival in a politically stable country blessed with resource riches and relatively free of corruption’s corrosive impact. Those are compelling arguments beyond the numbers to do more than just talk about rolling out a minimum guaranteed income in Canada.