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A Tribute to Hugh Segal

Hugh Segal, grandfather of the Canadian movement for a basic income guarantee, has died.  Basic income activists and our allies are feeling his loss acutely. He was a relentless foe of poverty, an indefatigable speaker for basic income throughout his life, and for us, an inspiring, humane and dedicated forebear and leader. We, and the whole country, have lost an important presence.

In his book Boot Straps Need Boots: One Tory’s Lonely Fight to End Poverty in Canada (2019), Hugh tells us movingly of people who provided core ideas in his youth which set him on his future path: his parents whose sense of justice he captures in recounting the incident of “The Missing Toy Box,” which “activated a nascent sense of conscience in me”; Prime Minster John Diefenbaker, whose speech at his high school introduced the idea that one person who cared and fought for better things could truly improve people’s lives, and ended with a plea for help “not for myself, but for the future of the country”.  Hugh writes that these words lit a pilot light for him, and he “felt a sense of duty related to that moment”; finally, still in high school, he interviewed folk singer Joan Baez from whom he learned “something profound: that poverty, human rights, war and fairness were connected in far more intense ways than I had understood before.”  

In college, Hugh became an aide to Progressive Conservative leader Robert Stanfield, and after graduating volunteered to work for MP David MacDonald of PEI. He was later to become Chief of Staff to Ontario Premier Bill Davis. These men, skilled and socially progressive Red Tories all, cemented his decision to devote his life to public service within the Progressive Conservative Party.  He eventually became Chief of Staff to PM Brian Mulroney, and afterwards was appointed to the Senate by Liberal PM Paul Martin.  His approach to politics in general was balanced, to opponents genial and respectful. All through the years that Hugh was pursuing his full-time, very active and influential political career, he pursued his basic income goal – ever before his eyes – actively and eloquently.  He spoke forcefully for implementation of a basic income for Canada hundreds of times, eventually being asked to design the Ontario Basic Income Pilot, implemented by Premier Kathleen Wynne. 

Hugh was a tireless and stunningly eloquent speaker, but initially lonely, as the subtitle of his book “One Tory’s Lonely Fight to End Poverty in Canada” makes clear. An income tested basic income was the means to that end in his view.  He quickly became the natural leader, advisor, guide and inspiration to growing numbers of individuals and organizations who, persuaded by him or otherwise, became committed to basic income as well.

Struggling to capture their appreciation of Hugh in words on hearing of his death, individual advocates shared some of their main impressions of him. The two indented paragraphs below look as if they were written by a single individual, but are an assemblage of borrowed phrases from those impressions set in italics to indicate that unusual editing: 

Hugh was a fine, fine human being, statesmanlike without ever being stuffy. He was passionately principled and purposeful, yet always ready with a quick witticismThere aren’t many who have made so many contributions in so many realms including our own.  He smiled a lot, perhaps because he was a true optimist and believed progressive thinkers would eventually shape public policy in a more humane way.  Would that all our political leaders shared his intelligence and integrity.

Though he was our longest, strongest and most compelling advocate for an income tested basic income, Hugh was a modest person, with not an iota of pretense or phoniness. His mind was razor sharp, his views incisive. His comment, “Neoliberalism is the intellectualization of greed,” is a typical example. Always generous with his time and insights, he was considerate to everyone. Even his humour was never ad hominem. He understood politics both broadly and in detail. His loss will leave an enduring hole in our world.

Hugh Segal was a truly remarkable and dear man. We who share his passion to bring basic income to Canada are grateful for the path he marked out so clearly, for the vivid vision he created of a caring country, for his dedication and deep humanity, his optimism, personal warmth and unfailing graciousness.  We can best honour him by holding firmly in our own hearts his faith that our country is capable of taking this step toward social justice. 

May we seek to bring to our efforts a generosity of spirit, affability and dedication approaching his own.

Toni Pickard, on behalf of Coalition Canada

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Critics of Basic Income are Misrepresenting the Facts

Wil Robertson, Steering Committee member of Coalition Canada, responded to Senator Diane Bellemare’s article in the Globe and Mail (April 27, 2022), which republished in Atlantic Canada by Huddle Today (May 2, 2022) and in several other Postmedia-owned newspapers in Atlantic Canada, including the Telegraph-Journal in New Brunswick.

In his article, Robertson argues that Bellemare raised many issues and reasons why a basic income should not be considered, but her arguments and facts reflect what many economists, topic experts, advocates, and politicians have noted are either endogenous arguments or facts that have been cherry picked and taken out of context. Read more here…

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Comment

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

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Comment

Forget’s Response to Bellemare’s Opinion sent to all Senators

Senator Kim Pate sent all her Senate colleagues a letter along with Dr. Evelyn Forget’s response to Senator Bellemare’s opinion piece (“A basic income would be an unfair, complicated and costly way to eliminate poverty” published on April 27, 2022 in the Globe and Mail).

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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.

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News

New Basic Income Bills in the House and Senate

On December 16, 2021, Member of Parliament Leah Gazan (NDP Winnipeg Centre) introduced Private Member Bill C-223 in the House of Commons for first reading (read text here). If passed by the House, this would establish the first national framework for a Guaranteed Livable Basic Income for all persons over 17 across Canada (watch the video here). On the same day, in solidarity and support of Bill C-233, Senator Kim Pate introduced the same bill in the Senate as Bill S-233

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MMIWG Action Plan prioritizes guaranteed livable Income

June 8, 2021: The National Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls called for a National Action Plan to be developed.  The Core Group established to develop that Plan released its first report on June 3.  The Plan identifies the implementation of a basic income guarantee as a priority.

“The presence of guaranteed livable income in the National Action Plan emphasizes the connection between economic marginalization, violence, and the ongoing legacy of colonialism in Canada,” said Senator Pate. See the Senator’s question in the Senate here.

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Petition calls for Increased access to the Canada Child Benefit

House of Commons petition e-3347, is sponsored by Ontario Liberal MP Han Dong (Don Vally North). It calls on the government “to reduce child poverty and alleviate the hardships faced by children and women in Canada by allowing all children who are residents of Canada access to Canada Child Benefit payments, irrespective of the immigration status of their parents.” Please consider signing this petition today. If 500 Canadian residents sign the petition by May 23, 2021, the government will be forced to answer the question of the MP on this issue.

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New studies on basic income

Elaine Power, Associate Professor at Queens University just published a study on food insecurity among students at Queen’s University. A new book by Elaine Power and Jamie Swift was also released: The Case for Basic Income: Freedom, Security, Justice.

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Video: Youth advocating for basic income

BICYN, Canada’s basic income youth network for those under 35, just completed their first year of advocacy work and produced a video about what they have accomplished so far. If you are passionate about the need for basic income and want to join a dedicated group of young people committed to ensuring our governments hear their voices on the need for income security for youth – and everyone living in Canada – watch this video and join BICYN!