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.