Basic Income in Canada: A Primer for Career Professionals
About 3 million Canadians, or 8.1% of Canada’s population, live below the poverty line. Over the past several years, the idea of basic income has been put forward as a possible way to improve the lives of people and to create a fairer and more equitable society. In Canada, the idea has been tested and debated for several years. As career professionals, we can take strides to learn about basic income. This will strengthen our understanding, stimulate empathy, and inform our actions as we serve our clients.
Many Canadians are underserved by our current support systems. During difficult times, such as we experienced over the last three years, people may face hardship as a result of reduced economic activity and/or accelerating inflation. Marginalized groups are often hardest hit: First Nations, Inuit and Métis people, immigrants, refugees, women, youth, people with disabilities, 2SLGTBQ people, those involved in the criminal justice system, those who identify as members of ethnocultural groups, Black and other racialized communities. These groups may benefit from a basic income program.
What is Basic Income?
Basic income (BI) is a policy proposal where every person, regardless of employment status, would regularly receive a minimum amount of funds from the government. The function of such a program would be to provide a “safety net” for people who are struggling to make ends meet, and to ensure that everyone has enough to cover basic needs, such as food, housing, clothing, and health care.
Basic Income Models
In Canada, there are two main models being proposed by advocates of BI:
- Universal Basic Income (UBI): UBI is a proposal to provide a flat-rate, unconditional cash payment to every person, regardless of their employment status, income level, or other circumstances. UBI would provide a safety net for everyone, ensuring they have enough to cover basic needs. At year end, the government would use the tax system to recoup funds from higher income individuals who didn’t end up needing the UBI payment.
- Guaranteed Basic Income (GBI): GBI is a proposal to provide a guaranteed minimum income to individuals and families who fall below a certain income threshold. Unlike UBI, which is provided to everyone, GBI is targeted to specific groups who are most in need, such as those living in poverty.
While both UBI and GBI aim to provide a guaranteed minimum income, the key difference between the two approaches is their universality. UBI provides a payment to everyone, regardless of need, while GBI is targeted to those most in need.
Basic Income Initiatives in Canada
Here are some examples of BI pilots and studies that have taken place in Canada:
- Mincome Experiment: The Mincome experiment was a pioneering guaranteed annual income pilot project in Manitoba in the 1970s.
- Ontario Basic Income: Ontario launched a 3-year pilot project in 2017 to test the effectiveness of a guaranteed income. The pilot was cancelled by the incoming government in 2018.
- Quebec Basic Income: On January 1, 2023, Quebec launched a basic income pilot program for 84,000 low-income residents. This program is anticipated to cost about $1.5 billion a year. Anti-poverty activists are praising the program as a good step toward helping people meet their basic needs.
The Canadian COVID-19 relief measures, including the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) and the Canada Recovery Benefit (CRB), can be considered forms of BI in the sense that they provided financial support to individuals regardless of their employment status or income level. However, it is worth noting that the COVID-19 relief measures were temporary and were not intended to replace a permanent basic income program.
Provincial and national discussions on BI are becoming more prevalent. Like-minded groups and organizations are coming together to review models and approaches and assess the viability and potential for reducing poverty in their regions of Canada.
There have also been various proposals for implementing a Universal Basic Income (UBI) program in Canada, including at the federal and provincial levels. These proposals vary in their design and scope, but all aim to provide a guaranteed minimum income to all citizens, regardless of their employment status, income level, or other circumstances.
These initiatives and proposals have provided valuable insights into the potential benefits and challenges of implementing a BI program in Canada. They’ve also helped to advance the broader debate about the future of social welfare policy.
Pilot programs have show that there are several potential benefits of establishing basic income, including:
- Reduction of poverty: Providing a guaranteed minimum income could help to reduce poverty and increase financial security for individuals and families.
- Improved health outcomes: People with stable income and access to resources have better health outcomes, so a BI program could serve to improve outcomes for marginalized groups.
- Increased economic mobility: Providing a stable source of income could help individuals pursue higher levels of education and gain meaningful employment.
- Simplified social assistance system: A BI program could simplify existing social assistance programs by replacing multiple programs with a single benefit.
- Encouragement of entrepreneurship: By reducing financial insecurity, a basic income program could encourage entrepreneurship and innovation, which could lead to economic growth and job creation.
While there are many potential benefits to a basic income program, it is important to consider the potential challenges as well. There are several concerns related to basic income that have been raised, including:
- Cost: Implementing a basic income program on a national scale could be expensive, and funding it could require tax increases or reductions in other government spending.
- Labour market effects: Some people are concerned that a basic income program could disincentivize work, leading to a decrease in labour supply and economic output.
- Potential for abuse: There are concerns that a basic income program could be subject to fraud and abuse, as people may receive benefits they are not entitled to.
These concerns highlight the need for careful consideration and thorough analysis of any basic income proposal to ensure that it is implemented in a way that capitalizes on it benefits and mitigates its potential risks.
Basic Income Resources and Associations
There are a number of groups in Canada that are focused on promoting and advocating for basic income. They offer a variety of resources for those interested in learning more about BI and its potential benefits. Two such organizations are:
- Basic Income Canada Network (BICN): A national network of individuals and organizations that are committed to promoting and advocating for basic income in Canada. BICN provides a variety of resources and information on basic income, including research studies, policy proposals, and advocacy materials.
- Coalition Canada: A cross-country alliance of basic income advocacy groups and networks advancing the development of a national movement for basic income in Canada.
The Government of Canada provides information on a variety of social programs, including those that provide support to low-income individuals and families.
Canada’s Poverty Reduction Act set targets to reduce poverty across the nation. The targets align with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal of ending poverty, in all its forms, everywhere.
While there is growing interest in basic income, it is still a highly debated and controversial issue, and there is no consensus on the best way to implement such a program. As a result, many proposals and pilot projects are ongoing, and their results will inform future policy decisions.
Sharon Graham is founder and interim executive director of Career Professionals of Canada. Committed to setting the standard for excellence in the career development profession, Sharon has authored top selling paperback publications and textbooks, and has established a range of certification, professional development, community development, mentoring, and award programs. As chair of the board of CPC, she provides foresight and leadership within the sector and ensures that the mandate of this national organization is upheld with integrity.
Portions of this article include content modified from text generated by AI.