By Carl Hager and Denise Giroux
Jagmeet Singh and the federal NDP are well positioned to erect the basic income guarantee plan in Canada as a solution to the dire straits of Canadians in a floundering economy. The NDP is the most credible party to do this, and it will be telling about their political adversaries in how they respond.
COVID-19 has wrought immense damage to the health of Canadians and to the economic prospects of the nation. Millions now rely on the hastily conceived social safety net called the Canada Emergency Response Benefit. Without the sudden influx of billions of dollars into the economy and into the hands of Canadians, the economy would collapse. Clearly Canada needs a permanent fix to economic inequality.
In the past 40 years, the wealthy have been enriched. Not so for most Canadians. The dramatic deterioration overall in the living standards and wages of the bottom 50 per cent, as well as lost ground for the ‘middle class’, are due to the tax and social policies of previous Liberal and the Conservative governments. The NDP has consistently proposed credible alternative economic policies prioritizing fairness and equality. It is time for the NDP to raise this basic income guarantee banner front and centre, highlight it in its policy platform and bring it to fruition as a government.
The government finding instant cash to fund CERB to the tune of billions was not a cause for concern by the political elite. It is seen as a gesture to save the economy. But the idea seems to raise hackles if the NDP raises it, simply because with the basic income guarantee, the NDP’s focus would be on helping equalize the long-term economic prospects of all Canadians, including the underprivileged.
The basic income guarantee plan would mean the simplification of social programs. It puts a basic monthly income directly into the hands of Canadians, to help them flourish and to cover rent and food. Yes, details of how much and how to coordinate with the provinces have to be worked out, but previous governments found the means to implement a program as complicated as Medicare.
Instituting such a program takes guts, courage and love, as Mr. Singh says. Critics will be numerous, as they will cite people who seem to waste their income. But the reality is that the vast majority of people receiving such money are better positioned to take stock of their lives; basic income guarantee can give them hope for a better future, including the pursuit of education, training and business opportunities, allowing them to contribute constructively to their communities. With the idea of the basic income guarantee program, the federal NDP can take the lead during this turning point in Canada’s history.
Carl Hager is vice-president of the Pontiac NDP Riding Association. He resides in the municipality of Pontiac; Denise Giroux was NDP candidate in 2019 for the Pontiac riding. She resides in Cantley and is president of the Riding Association.