QUEBEC, CANADA: Government “hints at” Guaranteed Minimum Income in new budget

Photo: Hôtel du Parlement du Québec, CC BY-SA 3.0 Jeangagnon

Quebec hints at basic income1 in recent budget, aims to bypass testing

By Roderick Benns

 

The Quebec Liberal government has hinted strongly in its recent budget that some form of basic income guarantee is imminent – but likely only for a portion of the province, at least to begin with.

Of note in the announcement is that Quebec will bypass any testing of the program, unlike Ontario with its commitment to a pilot project, and instead will begin a restrained roll-out of a minimum income program aimed at lifting the most vulnerable out of poverty.

After Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard put Francois Blais in charge of the Ministry of Employment and Social Solidarity in January of 2016, it was clear there was interest in the Quebec government for some kind of basic income guarantee program. Blais wrote a book about the topic in 2002, called Ending Poverty: A Basic Income for All Canadians.

A committee was also established in 2016 by the government to examine ways to improve the current income support system.

In the recent budget, more about the plan “to fight poverty and social exclusion” will be unveiled in a few months by Blais.

“For the first time, this plan will be aimed at lifting over 100,000 persons out of poverty, particularly single persons and couples without children,” states the budget.

“Increasing available income will be the focus of the approach taken,” reads the budget, suggesting a gradual implementation of some kind of minimum income program.

There are other poverty reduction measures mentioned, including increasing the available income of social assistance recipients who make an effort to work, provisions to ease their entry into the labour market, and “measures to foster participation by individuals and families in community life.”

The government states in its budget that in preparing their plan they will evaluate the recommendations made in the coming months “by the expert committee on the guaranteed minimum income.”

In neighbouring Ontario, the Province recently released its summary of the survey completed by 34,000 people. The province is looking to create a pilot that would test how a basic income might benefit people living in a variety of low income situations, including those who are currently working.

Minister of Poverty Reduction, Chris Ballard, like his Quebec counterpart, is also concerned with the sea change Ontario has experienced in its job market. He told the Precarious Work Chronicle that this insecurity seen goes hand in hand with a basic income.

“Everybody is very sensitive with the changing nature of work. It’s not the same world, where you work in the same place for 30 years. We worked so hard as a society to get out of poverty, and then suddenly we’re fearful we might slide back in. Basic Income might provide a fantastic safety net,” he says, to help reduce anxiety.

However, unlike Quebec, which appears to be edging toward a gradual implementation, Ontario will test these assumptions with a pilot project with more details announced in the weeks to come.

1 Editor’s note: In Canada, it is common to use the term ‘basic income’ to refer to guaranteed minimum income programs (including programs on which the incomes of low earners are “topped up” to some minimum threshold). This is a broader usage than that employed by BIEN insofar as it does not require that the subsidy be “paid to all, without means test”. It may also be a narrower usage insofar as the minimum income guarantee is generally stipulated to be high enough to lift recipients out of poverty, whereas BIEN’s definition of ‘basic income’ does not constrain the size of the payment.


Roderick Benns is the author of Basic Income: How a Canadian Movement Could Change the World.

He is also the publisher of the Precarious Work Chronicle, a social purpose news site designed to shine a spotlight on precarious work and the need for basic income.

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7 comments

  • Pierre Madden

    “If a specific question has meaning, it must be possible to find operations by which an answer may be given to it …” Percy Bridgman, Nobel Prize in Physics, 1946

    In your opening sentence, you state:” … likely only for a portion of the province, at least to begin with.” This may suggest a geographic condition, whereas it would be more appropriate to say: “… likely affecting only a portion of the population, at least to begin with.”

    The “portion” you are referring to is the “100,000 persons” to be lifted out of poverty. Experts and advocates tend to see this as evidence that we are not dealing with a Basic Income program because a means test has been used to select 100,000 people. I disagree and propose, in the spirit of Bridgman, two “operational definitions”:
    1)Condition M
    – Define poverty by method w
    – Select all people who qualify
    – Have civil servants make them fill out forms
    – Form asks personal questions on family status, proof of work status, income, assets, residency, etc.
    – Filling of form is mandatory to receive benefits
    – Information must be updated periodically
    – Benefits vary with answers
    2)Condition I
    – Define population by method x
    – For everyone in population, an income tax declaration must be filed
    – Fix benefit base amount according to method y
    – Everyone in population receives benefit, less tax calculated by method z

    My point is that definition 2 does not disqualify a program from being a bona fide Basic Income program. Furthermore, it is possible to adjust method y such that the income of 100,000 people in the population (method x) will rise above the poverty line defined in method w. If this does not qualify as Basic Income (“partial” at least), so be it. It is consistent with the Basic Income Canada Network definition.

    Finally, the Editor’s Note suggests that Canadians would accept a means-tested Basic Income. In Canada, this is an oxymoron, properly know as welfare. I know of no one, let alone a Canadian, who thinks definition 1 is consistent with Basic Income in any way, shape, or form.

    • Bharat

      You wrote down what current welfare system is doing now. Basic income is different. No threat or humiliation involved. Assets don’t mean good income. People with assets will also be paid

  • June Ryan

    No need for pow-wows or interminable con-fabs, it has all been worked out many years ago by far seeing and knowledgeable people.

    A booklet by Charles Pinwill “Democratising Money” will provide all the information needed in 21 pages.

    • Pierre Madden

      Social credit? We had a provincial social credit government in Alberta in the thirties. I can still remember Réal Caouette’s colourful leadership of the federal Socreds in the 60s and 70s.

  • Serf Jester

    I feel like it’s more honorable to skip the pilot and go straight into a non-universal basic income if and only if it is this big. But still not honorable enough as Guy Standing would argue. Because this isn’t about just economics, it’s about acknowledging a new (not new) human right. A new standard for being a human.

    • Pierre Madden

      What do you mean by “non-universal” and “this big”. Referring to my comment above, can you give an operational definition of each? Are you referring to geography and the size of the benefit?
      Basic Income will be implemented long before economic security is recognized as a human right. The political and economic reality will impose itself before the concept becomes the norm. Slavery is long gone in the modern world. Racism remains.

  • Unknown

    When reading this all I can think about is people living on welfare benefiting from this. Getting more money for doing nothing. I work full time and make just over $30,000 per year and raise 2 minor children on my own. I get CCTB but because I make over $25,000 my children do not qualify for Healthy Smiles Program. But in previous articles I have read people on welfare will not lose their benefits. If they are topped up to $29,000 per year then how is this possible. If not working making $29,000 per year and maximum CCTB, day care paid. Why do I get up every morning at 5:30 am to get myself ready for work and my children ready for school. They will be making more in the long run than I do working full time. Is this really for the working family?

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