Canadian Chamber of Commerce - Ottawa should accept the call to test basic income

Editorial - The Hamilton Spectator - 4 November 2020

There is a stubborn myth, bordering on a stereotype, that guaranteed basic income is a child only of the progressive left and poverty advocates.

It’s not true, and never has been. Basic income has strong support across ideological lines, including from Conservative Sen. Hugh Segal and American federal bank governors. And there is compelling new evidence of that truth.

This week the Canadian Chamber of Commerce joined the chorus calling on the federal government to create a basic income pilot to replace the one that was wrongly and prematurely cancelled by Doug Ford’s government.

The resolution supported by the national business lobby group was put forward by chambers of commerce in Hamilton and Thunder Bay, both of which were sites for the provincial pilot. The resolution calls on Ottawa to create a basic income pilot project and “assess the potential costs, benefits, pitfalls, challenges and outcomes of a nationwide basic income social assistance program.”

So ask yourself this: If basic income truly was an idea supported only by those who lean left, would it be supported by the national organization that represents small- and medium-sized business in Canada?

Hamilton’s chamber deserves credit for bringing this idea forward, as does the chamber in Thunder Bay. Hamilton chamber CEO Keanin Loomis said: “I’m thrilled that our colleagues agreed that the time is ripe for the (Canadian Chamber of Commerce) to have a position on one of the most topical and potentially transformational public policy proposals in our national discourse, guaranteed basic income.”

Would basic income work as a replacement for the maze of social assistance programs that exist now, some of which actually help keep recipients tied down in poverty? There is strong evidence it would, but it’s fair to say we don’t know for certain. Had the Ontario pilot been allowed to run its course, the data revealed would tell us one way or the other. But instead, the Ford government cancelled the pilot before that evidence could be gathered, even though Ford previously promised he wouldn’t do that.

But preliminary data revealed in a study by McMaster University and the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction suggests strongly that the pilot was working. Respondents in the study reported better physical and mental health, fewer hospital ER visits, more stable housing and general improved well-being. About 80 per cent said they were motivated to find better-paying jobs, shattering the stereotype that giving people a basic income would cause them to withdraw from the workforce.

The Ontario project saw 4,000 participants in Hamilton/Brantford, Thunder Bay and Lindsay receive basic income. Those with incomes under $34,000 annually received up to just under $17,000 while couples with household income under $48,000 received about $24,000 in basic income. There was also a control group that did not receive basic income. Had the pilot been allowed to run its course, the government could have studied the pros and cons in terms of the lives of recipients, as well as whether or not basic income would be a more efficient way to deliver social assistance.

We know the federal government is interested, especially in light of the displacement caused by COVID-19. It should take the opportunity offered by the chamber motion to test and assess basic income. Thanks to the chamber of commerce support, we can say with certainty that testing basic income has broad support, from progressive thinkers and activists to the business community. That is another clear signal that this is an idea whose time has come. The time to act on it is now.

*** Read the article at The Hamilton Spectator here.