Dr. Tracy Smith Carrier Responds to Sen. Bellemare’s Opinion in Globe and Mail

Senator Bellemare’s opinion piece [ A basic income would be an unfair, complicated and costly way to eliminate poverty, Globe and Mail, April 27 2022] rendered a cheerless endorsement of a guaranteed basic income (GBI) program in Canada. The costs of a GBI have indeed been estimated by various groups and organizations over the years, yielding wildly divergent estimates. Yet what is far less frequently estimated, or discussed, are the costs of not delivering such a program. What would have been the cost, for example, of not offering the CERB, a cash transfer program, at the height of the pandemic?

Poverty is the most significant cause of suffering in the world, as the World Health Organization reported in 1995. It not only strips people of their dignity and denies them innumerable opportunities, but it also kills. As the now voluminous social determinants of health literature shows, it is our social conditions, not individual behaviours, that largely shape our health and wellbeing.

Maintaining poverty is costly. In addition to taking a significant toll on human lives, it exacts huge sums of dollars every year in health and social care expenditures. Feed Ontario’s estimates suggest that the annual cost of poverty in the province of Ontario alone is roughly $30 billion in health, social and opportunity costs. Combine those figures across the provinces and territories, and the costs add up quickly.

Income security programs rife with eligibility rules and conditionalities make them more administratively cumbersome, and often less effective. If a GBI program had been integrated into the tax system before the CERB, it would have saved money, according to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, and been far more efficient.  And GBI programs do not cause people to suddenly leave their jobs. Research by Robert Gilbert and colleagues in 2018 examined 16 GBI programs around the world and found they had “no substantial impact” on labour market participation. Notions that people are lazy and lack the motivation to work prevail, yet such myths are not substantiated by research. The suggestion that all people needing a GBI “should earn a living” rather than get assistance smacks of unfairness to people already working two to three jobs just to get by. 

The Parliamentary Budget Office itself has released a series of reports over the years costing out a GBI, citing dramatically different figures – $44 billion in 2017 and doubling to $88 billion in 2022. Economist and Mincome expert Evelyn Forget and Metcalf Foundation Fellow John Stapleton pegged the number closer to $30 billion in 2017, once you take away the $15 billion already spent on provincial social assistance programs.

Rather than debating whether improving our gaping social safety net through a GBI would be sufficiently economical, it may be time for us to re-consider our expenditures on corporate welfare, and the billions that get wasted, as John Ivison from the University of Calgary points out, each year on subsidizing (already wealthy) businesses. These subsidies have not been shown to generate jobs or improve economic performance. Phasing out corporate subsidies ($34 billion in subsidies and support to the fossil-fuel sector alone, according to Energy Policy Tracker Canada) and imposing a 1% wealth tax on incomes over $20 million ($20 billion according to economist Alex Hemingway), and we’d have roughly what we’d need. Cutting corporate welfare to other sectors, taxing capital gains, and tackling tax havens would yield substantially more.

Research has shown that it is more costly to maintain a system of homelessness, and the institutionalized forms of care it requires, than it does to provide affordable and supportive housing options. The same is likely true of poverty – it takes more money to deal with its consequences than to actually eliminate it. The Canada Child Benefit offers a useful exemplar of a GBI program at work in Canada. According to the Canadian Income Survey in 2020, child poverty was cut in half over the 2015-2020 period, largely arising, as economics professor Michael Baker and his colleagues have shown, from changes to CCB benefits. How can the impacts of this GBI program be considered unfair, complicated and costly?

Tracy Smith-Carrier PhD, MSW 

Canada Research Chair (Tier 2) Advancing the UN Sustainable Development Goals & Associate Professor, School of Humanitarian Studies | Royal Roads University 2005 Sooke Pronouns: she/her/hers

Adjunct Research Professor, Arthur Labatt Family School of Nursing, Western University

Media coverage

Dr. Evelyn Forget Responds to Sen. Bellemare’s Opinion in the Globe & Mail

Quebec Senator and economist Diane Bellemare has written a criticism of basic income [A basic income would be an unfair, complicated and costly way to eliminate poverty, Globe and Mail, April 27, 2022] that is wrong on so many levels that it is hard to respond. In 795 words she has managed to confuse “net” and “gross”, “provincial” and “federal”, and a “universal payment” with a “targeted basic income”.

She reports an immense price-tag for a basic income by imagining that the same amount would be paid to all Canadians, rich or poor, when the entire conversation around basic income in Canada has focused on a modest basic income targeted to those with low incomes. She has declared that a basic income would mean paying everyone the same amount making it impossible to respond to differential needs, even though Bill S-233 explicitly says otherwise. Did BC and Quebec declare that a basic income was not feasible, as she reports? They only investigated a provincial program – not a federal basic income.

Bellemare forgets to mention that current programs (such as provincial social assistance) also have a price-tag attached to them, as do her imagined alternative job training programs. She has invented massive labour market disincentives, even though the Parliamentary Budget Office estimated that a basic income might lead to a reduction in hours worked of 1.3% – hardly an immense effect.

Would, as she declared, a basic income “involve a complete transformation of our income tax system at the federal and provincial levels”? Hardly. Yet, she surveyed Canadians and, having explained to them, on the basis of no evidence whatsoever, that their taxes would double and all deductions would be eliminated, she found (surprise!) that popular support for a basic income declined.

Canadians need to have a real conversation about poverty – without fearmongering or invented “data”. We need to know how our different levels of government can cooperate to best respond to real social needs. It makes little sense to report strong public belief that “all working-age adults in Canada should work to earn a living” when 70% of social assistance rolls are comprised of people with disabilities, some of whom can’t work at all and others who need supports to make work possible. And a Youth Guarantee Program, a Job Path Program and a Professional Training Program, popular as they may be, all have costs attached and little evidence of effectiveness. Parts of this country have been awash in job training programs for decades, but the benefits are hard to find.

Let’s get past the ideology and think about how we can make life better for all Canadians.

Evelyn Forget, Professor

University of Manitoba
Department of Community Health Sciences
Max Rady School of Medicine
Rady Faculty of Health Sciences

Evelyn Louise Forget is a Canadian health economist with expertise in the feasibility of basic income. She has been appointed as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and an Officer of the Order of Canada for “advancing anti-poverty initiatives in Canada and around the world”. She is the author of the book “Basic Income for Canadians: The Key to a Healthier, Happier and More Secure Life for All“, which was shortlisted for the 2018-19 Donner Prize.

Artists For Basic Income

Clayton Windatt: The movement is part of my life

“Thinking about speculative design and how it can question oppression and push towards larger shifts in society forces me to reflect on my own role in social activism. I consider my proximity to an issue and make an effort to speak about relevance to me as a way of communicating relevance to others. Although design-thinking alone cannot change society, critical offerings enacted through community with great effort towards building consensus can take individual goals further than I could alone…”

Read the rest of this article on Clayton Windatt’s website


Our submission to the 2021 Federal Budget Consultation

Thank you for the opportunity to bring forward our four recommendations for the 2021 budget. Coalition Canada’s recommendations are based on the research and on discussions with numerous groups and people from all walks of life across Canada.


Coalition Canada urges the federal government to:

1. Introduce a national basic income guarantee.

It should be paid monthly to residents of Canada aged 18 to 64. Other federal income transfers, such as the Guaranteed Income Supplement for seniors, should be adjusted to ensure fairness.

2. Design a national basic income guarantee program that delivers the greatest support to working-age adults with lowest incomes, regardless of work status.

Those with no income should receive the full benefit. As earned income increases beyond the established benefit level, the benefit should be gradually reduced by a proportion of earned income. 

3. Engage with each province and territory to harmonize the social transfer they receive as the federal government assumes responsibility for income transfers to working-age adults.

Start with the Government of Prince Edward Island, which has already requested discussions with the federal government to provide a basic income guarantee for the people of PEI. 

4.  Include Indigenous people and governments in a national basic income guarantee.

Consultation must respect the sovereignty of Indigenous governments.

Artists For Basic Income

The Writer’s Union of Canada endorsement

TWUC calls on the government to implement a Basic Income Guarantee as an economic foundation for Canada’s workers. A basic income should complement and not replace or in any way diminish existing arts support programs.

Artists For Basic Income News

Toronto Arts Council endorsement

Toronto Arts Council supports a federal Basic Income Guarantee

See the opinion piece published in The Globe and Mail, on March 20, 2021, and in La Presse on March 25. PDF of the article here

British Columbia News

How a Basic Income Could Save Lives in a Pandemic

Victoria – The Tyee (Jan 07, 2021): Emergency benefits showed the value of ensuring all Canadians are guaranteed enough money to meet basic needs. A basic income program could have saved lives and reduced COVID-19 transmission when the pandemic struck last spring, says Evelyn Forget, economist and professor in the Department of Community Health Sciences at the University of Manitoba. And basic income, as both a health and a poverty reduction policy, could still help people weather the second wave and those to come, says Forget.


Canadian academics call for a Basic income Guarantee

December 17, 2020: The Royal Society of Canada released Renewing the Social Contract: Economic Recovery in Canada from Covid-19. Authored by 11 leading Canadian academics in the fields of economics, law, environment and health, the report provides 16 recommendations in 4 key areas: (1) Renewing the social contract; (2) Reinvigorating the Canadian economy for Innovation and resilience; (3) Enabling innovation; and (4) Improving  crisis policy response. Their #1 recommendation to renew the social contract is to establish a basic income guarantee. They also recommend ensuring paid sick leave, universal childcare that provides Early Childhood Education. To pay for these they recommend comprehensive tax reform that calls for taxing all income earned from capital gains the same way we tax earnings and also re-instituting an inheritance tax in order to address inequality.


Canada’s poor continue to be told “not yet”

The Senate – 9 Dec, 2020: Using a rare procedural step to oppose the second reading of Bill C-17, an Act granting money for federal public administration to the end of March 2021, Senator Kim Pate made a stunning speech in the Senate Chamber. Despite promises from the federal government, 3.5 million Canadians living below the poverty line continue to be excluded from income support programs like CERB and enhancements to EI, because the government says “not yet” to those living in deepest poverty. Read or watch this brilliant and impactful speech here.

Media coverage Prince Edward Island

Not another pilot project please!

Charlottetown – The Guardian (10 Dec, 2020): PEI’s Report from the all-party Special Committee on Poverty recommended implementing a Basic Income Guarantee (BIG) in PEI as a test case for all of Canada – but it also included a backup plan if the federal government declines to partner with PEI to deliver a province-wide program. Plan B is another pilot reaching one-tenth of the people who need a basic income in PEI. BIG advocates say no to Plan B.