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
Photo: Hôtel du Parlement du Québec, CC BY-SA 3.0
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.
Photo: Jean-Yves Duclos, CC BY-NC 2.0 UNU-WIDER
Thirty McGill students meet with Jean-Yves Duclos, the Federal minister of Families, Children and Social Development for Canada.
If you follow this site, you may remember a piece on my meeting with François Blais, Quebec minister of Employment and Social Solidarity, who, over 15 years ago—when he was an academic—wrote a well-regarded book on Basic Income. Minister Blais has been tasked by his boss Philippe Couillard, the Premier of Quebec, to explore options for its implementation.
On January 16, his federal counterpart, Jean-Yves Duclos, the minister of Families, Children and Social Development for Canada, sat down for an hour with some 30 McGill students to answer questions.
Unlike Blais, Duclos does not have a mandate from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to develop a plan for Basic Income. He is currently focusing on a National Housing strategy, a poverty reduction strategy and the issue of homelessness.
Although the discussion covered many topics, the common thread in Duclos’ responses was the eternal Canadian question of which is a federal and which is a provincial responsibility. I was not alone in asking some pointed questions about Basic Income. The underlying theme of his answers was also constitutional in nature .
When I asked the Minister what his thoughts were on Basic Income, he had only positive assessments:
He felt it would avoid poverty traps and that there is less stigma attached to it than social assistance. He also feels it is administratively simpler for both governments and the public, since Canada already has two Basic Incomes – one for children (the Canada Child Benefit), and one for seniors (the Canada Pension Plan). Expanding on the first, the minister explained that the entire pre-existing system was under federal control. Fifteen years ago, the support for children on welfare was taken over by the federal government and separated from the support for adults on welfare, which remained a provincial responsibility. The federal government, therefore, had all the necessary tools to implement the Canada Child Credit in July 2016. Provincial programs vary widely across the country. If an individual province wants to implement Basic Income in its area of jurisdiction, nothing can stop it. For the federal government to implement a national program would be far more difficult. “It would be a challenge, a problem of a different order of magnitude,” he said.
However, the federal government has a powerful tool to achieve national standards while respecting provincial competence: money. Today, Canadians enjoy the same level of health care no matter where they live because the provinces agreed to common standards of comprehensiveness, universality, portability, public administration, and accessibility, in exchange for cash transfers.
With regard to housing, the Minister had this to say:
In a federation, a natural and, in most cases, a productive tension exists between the different levels of government. In Canada, in some areas, the tension is avoided by claiming that one area is under some jurisdiction, completely. For housing, this not the case. Housing is shared. Provinces in these situations say: “Why don’t you transfer us the money and we, being closer to our citizens, should know better what to do with those resources.” However, then you lose accountability for these federal tax dollars and it is difficult to have a national, shared vision across all Canadians wherever they live. So the trade-off is between full control to provinces and territories versus a national sense of identity and a common set of values. So the tension is always there and when it’s properly managed, the outcome is always good.
The takeaway is quite clear. Clues to the process of implementing Basic Income are to be gleaned from the history of health care introduction. In that case, successful provincial programs in Western Canada evolved into the national system.
 Articles 91 and 92 of the Constitution Act, 1867 lay out distinct responsibilities of the Federal and Provincial governments. Other articles spell out shared responsibilities. Although the division of powers for poverty is not clearly delineated, in part because of the complexity of the issue, the federal government has successfully imposed national standards in shared domains such as Health Care.
Questions like these are less prominent in the United States because of the interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Written by: Pierre Madden
On November 12 and 13 I attended a congress of the Liberal Party of Quebec, which is currently in power in the province.
The Minister of Employment and Social Solidarity, François Blais, confirmed that a joint working group, with his colleague in Finance, will issue a preliminary report on Basic Income in the Spring. Our neighbouring province of Ontario (which, together with Quebec accounts for 62 percent of the population of Canada) was just released a working paper on a pilot project to begin in April 2017. Quebec does not seem to be leaning towards a pilot project.
In his talk, Minister Blais placed much emphasis on the principles underlying the development of the government’s project:
- The development of human capital (though education, for example)
- The obligation of protection from certain risks (with unemployment insurance and health insurance, for example)
- Income redistribution
The minister’s speech was highly focused on incentives to work or study (especially for the illiterate or those without a high school diploma).
The principle of unconditionality, a fundamental aspect of Basic Income, will likely not be a feature of the government’s plan.
On the second day of the congress it was the minister’s turn to ask me if he had answered my question. I described my own situation as a case in point. I am 62, three years away from my public pension which here in Canada is sufficient to raise most people out of poverty (works for me!). Why would the government be interested in the development of my human capital? The minister replies: “In a case like yours, we would have to go back in time to see what choices you made.” I have several university diplomas, which doesn’t help his argument. I am still either underemployed or unemployable.
The minister could only answer: “I would have to know more about your individual case.”
And that is what the government does and will continue to do for all those considered “fit for work.” Petty bureaucratic inconveniences for those “unfit for work” will be removed and their inadequate benefits will be improved by dipping into the funds previously used for the “fit” as they return to the workforce. The government sees no difficulty in a law it passed just last week (Bill 70: An Act to allow a better match between training and jobs and to facilitate labour market entry). The government highlights the positive measures it imposes to help participants join the job market. Those who prefer a non-paternalistic approach (“Give me the money and let me make my own decisions”) are penalized.
The irony is that before he entered politics Minister Blais actually wrote a book in support of Basic Income for all. He confirmed to me that he still believes what he wrote 15 years ago.
In Canada, both the federal and the provincial governments partially reimburse sales tax. Here in Quebec, the Solidarity Tax Credit refunds part of the estimated sales tax paid by consumers. The higher your income, the lower the monthly payout, so it works like a negative income tax. The minister was asked about this as a stepping stone towards Basic Income. He simply said it would be “a more radical approach.” Of course, tax credits don’t impact on “human capital.”
You can be sure I will be rereading François Blais’ book when his work-group’s report comes out next year.
About the author: Pierre Madden is a zealous dilettante based in Montreal. He has been a linguist, a chemist, a purchasing coordinator, a production planner and a lawyer. His interest in Basic Income, he says, is personal. He sure could use it now!
Revenu de base Québec (RBQ) and Mouvement Français pour un Revenu de Base (MFRB) have developed a program on basic income that will take place as part of the 2016 World Social Forum, held in Montreal, Quebec, Canada from August 9-14. World Social Forum events often draw tens of thousands of participants.
This basic income Creation Marathon will span 2 ½ days (from Wednesday, August 10 to Friday, August 12) and take place at the University of Quebec.
Referred to as a “creathon” by its organizers, the program has been inspired by the Bay Area’s two “Basic Income Create-A-Thons,” held in San Francisco and Los Angeles in November and April (respectively), and the “Basic Income Hack“ in Finland last March.
Like these other recent events, the Creation Marathon will bring together artists, activists, programmers, and other creative individuals to produce ideas and materials for raising awareness of and support for basic income.
The event will be multilingual (English, French, Spanish), though the lingua franca will be English.
Registration for the World Social Forum is required to attend.
More information on the creathon (in both English and French) is available at Eventbrite here.
Photo of Université du Québec à Montréal CC Jeangagnon
Thanks to Asha Pond for reviewing a draft this write-up.
Thanks to my supporters on Patreon. (To see how you too can support my work for Basic Income News, click the link.)