CANADA: Quebec is implementing a means-tested benefit, not a basic income
The province of Quebec, in Canada, has been fostering conversations around basic income and even, at a certain point in 2016, has appointed a long-time supporter of basic income, François Blais, as Minister of Employment and Social Solidarity. Although the term “guaranteed minimum income” has been used in an indiscriminate fashion ever since 2014, there has never been an actual mandate for Blais to implement basic income in Quebec.
In fact, what is being implemented in Quebec at the moment differs considerably from a basic income, as defined by the Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN). According to Dorothée Boccanfuso, Chair of Quebec’s Expert Committee on Guaranteed Minimum Income, the new plan’s definition is presented as “any system that offers a guarantee of monetary resources for all, with the amount of those resources being related to a minimum threshold”. This expert committee has been tasked to make recommendations to François Blais, on income support, having produced a report. The proposed scheme has, therefore, kept existing social security system’s properties of means-testing and incentives to work, the latter strengthened through “a greater reward be provided for work efforts, through a major increase to the work premium”.
The enhanced economic support scheme is intended to widen its coverage, aiming at defining a “benchmark threshold”, a means-tested minimum guaranteed income to support “persons with no employment restrictions, for persons 65 and over and for people with disabilities”. There has been, clearly, an effort to cover more people with social support, trying to fill in the gaps and effectively reduce poverty levels, but still not embracing unconditionality. As the Expert Committee on Guaranteed Minimum Income puts it:
“The Committee wants a society that is free of poverty, but this wish can only be achieved by helping persons who are able to re-enter the labour market, pursue education and training or, more generally, better integrate into society. In the Committee’s view, poverty is not a status, but rather a situation and those who are in it must be helped to get out. The income support system must guarantee the minimum resources required for vulnerable persons to meet their immediate needs. Above all, it must eliminate barriers preventing these persons from escaping poverty.”
So, the social security program sought is not an unconditional basic income. However, some media sources are portraying it in misleading headlines such as “Quebec to offer basic income for 84000 people unable to work” and “Basic income to be given to 84000 people in Canada”. One the other hand, a few anti-poverty groups have clearly criticised the support scheme, calling out for a true unconditional support system. According to Serge Petitclerc, representing the group Collectif pour un Quebec sans pauvreté, the “guaranteed minimum income (…) should be unconditional and it should apply to the entire population”.
More information at:
Kate McFarland, “Quebec, Canada: Liberal Party’s Ideas Forum to address Minimum Income”, Basic Income News, September 18th 2016
Stanislas Jourdan, “Québec, Canada: Minister of Employment appointed to work on basic income”, Basic Income News, February 4th 2016
Yannick Vanderborght, “Québec, Canada: Minister of Employment for the provincial government reiterates his support for basic income”, Basic Income News, July 17th 2014
Loulla-Mae Eleftheriou-Smith, “Basic income to be given to 84000 people in Canada”, Independent, 11th December 2017
Karina Laframboise, “Quebec to offer basic income for 84000 people unable to work”, CBCNews, 10th December 2017
Malcolm Torry, “What’s a definition? And how should we define Basic Income?”, BIEN Congress in Lisbon, 2017