A new research report from the Northern Policy Institute (NPI), a Canadian think-tank based in Ontario, has put forward an argument that Canada would benefit from a basic income guarantee.

The report is authored by Professor Evelyn Forget of the University of Manitoba, who also holds the post of Director at the Manitoba Research Data Centre. She details a potential system for implementing basic income, as well as examining ways in which it could improve current social provisions, and looking at some potential pitfalls and issues around putting a basic income programme into place.

Forget begins by giving an overview of an experiment which took place in Canada in the 70s, called the Mincome project, which she has researched extensively. This experiment involved providing a guaranteed income for three years to all inhabitants of a small Manitoban town called Dauphin. Results included a significant decrease in both hospitalizations and mental health complaints.

Forget goes on to argue that a guaranteed basic income (called a Basic Income Guarantee, or B.I.G., in the report) is eminently affordable for Canada, once it is taken into account that existing income support programmes could be scaled back or done away with altogether. The system which she describes is one of a means-tested B.I.G., reduced significantly for those in regular, reasonably-paid work, and provided only to those between 18 and 65 (this differs from BIEN’s own definition of basic income).

While she acknowledges a number of issues in implementing this (for example, would houses or cars be taken into account as assets when considering who should receive the B.I.G. payments?), Forget also draws her readers’ attention to potential benefits; for example, children from low income families may do better in school due to reduced family stress, and therefore have less need for special, governmentally funded support. She further states that such secondary benefits, while desirable, should not be considered the primary test of whether a B.I.G. has been effective. Forget argues that “It is sufficient to show that the depth and breadth of poverty are reduced, because that is the fundamental purpose of a B.I.G.”

The report concludes: “Now is the time to address, head-on, the challenges and trade-offs that are necessary to create a universal B.I.G. that can meet the needs of Canadians in the 21st century. The challenges are real, but so too are the costs of doing nothing.”

This is one of a series of research reports which have been put out by the NPI on basic income in recent months, in the context of a three-year B.I.G. pilot project which is already being actioned in a number of areas in Ontario. The pilot project is based on a paper put together by Hugh Segal, a former Canadian Chief of Staff, and currently Master of Massey College, Toronto. Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said of the pilot project, “For months, we have been doing the background work to explore the idea of a basic income.”

Evelyn Forget, “Do We Still Need a Basic Income Guarantee in Canada?”, Northern Policy Institute, May 2017

About Claire Bott

Claire Bott has written 29 articles.