National Strategy for a Guaranteed Basic Income Act

An Act to establish a national strategy for a guaranteed basic income

Sponsor

Julie Dzerowicz  Liberal

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Second reading (House), as of June 14, 2021

Subscribe to a feed (what's a feed?) of speeches and votes in the House related to Bill C-273.

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment requires the Minister of Finance to develop a national strategy to assess implementation models for a guaranteed basic income program as part of Canada’s innovation and economic growth strategy. It also provides for reporting requirements in relation to the strategy.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

National Strategy for a Guaranteed Basic Income ActPrivate Members' Business

June 14th, 2021 / 11:05 a.m.
See context

Liberal

Julie Dzerowicz Liberal Davenport, ON

moved that Bill C-273, An Act to establish a national strategy for a guaranteed basic income, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am absolutely honoured to rise in the House today to speak to my private member's bill, Bill C-273, an act to establish a national strategy for a guaranteed basic income. I give my thanks to the member for Malpeque, who seconded the bill and is a champion for a guaranteed basic income pilot in his home province of P.E.I., and to the member for Beaches—East York, a true progressive who traded his spot so I could stand in the House today to begin second reading of Bill C-273. I feel blessed to call him a colleague and friend.

Basic income is not a new idea. It is one that has been circulating in Canada for decades. This bill is being introduced after the many years of advocacy, research and work of many leaders, including Professor Evelyn Forget; former minister, MP and senator, the Hon. Hugh Segal; Ron Hikel, who directed the MINCOME program in Manitoba; Sheila Regehr, chair of the Basic Income Canada Network; Floyd Marinescu, executive director of UBI Works; the Hon. Art Eggleton, former senator, MP and minister; and Senator Kim Pate, among many other current senators. I stand on all of their shoulders. Their work is the reason this bill exists.

Even though a motion on basic income was presented in the House by the member for Winnipeg Centre, Bill C-273 represents the first time a bill on basic income has been introduced in the House of Commons, and it is a true honour for me to speak at the second reading of this bill.

We are slowly coming out of a once-in-a-generation pandemic, and we are all wondering what kind of world we want to come back to. We are all asking ourselves questions about how we want to live, inquiring about some of the models and systems that are currently in place. We are looking with new eyes at the economic model that has been the foundation of global growth. We have a much better understanding of the human impacts on our planet, which are accelerating climate change, and are asking ourselves how we can change the way we live. We see more clearly the disproportionate impact of the pandemic and other global disruptors on the most vulnerable and are asking what our obligations are to those who are less fortunate than us.

In building back better, what is the world we want to live in? As we chart a course forward, I believe we need a 21st-century approach that provides stability and better supports for Canadians, tackles income inequality, enhances productivity and spurs economic growth and innovation.

Bill C-273 proposes to create a new model that would serve as the foundation of our social welfare system. The bill, at its core, is about enabling implementation pilots between the provinces and/or territories and the national government to test large-scale guaranteed basic income programs. This bill is not about testing whether basic income is a good idea. There is already strong and substantial data that supports the effectiveness of a guarantee basic income, but there is much less information on the best ways or models to implement and deliver basic income at scale.

Bill C-273 would enable us to frame, test and validate different models to get to those answers and the data. The results of these implementation pilots and data would ultimately be used to create a national guaranteed basic income model. The bill does not propose which basic income model to use, whether it is a negative income model, the Ontario model, the MINCOME model or any other model. It also does not articulate a price tag or propose to eliminate any existing government-assisted income or support programs.

Bill C-273, if passed, would have all these details worked out between the provinces and/or territories and the federal government. It would allow for interested provinces or territories to model and create a program that works best for their populations. This bill would also collect data in three key areas: the impacts to government, the impacts to the recipient and the impacts to recipient communities. It also proposes the creation of a framework of national standards.

Why am I proposing a bill on guaranteed basic income? Canada's current social welfare system, created in the 1940s and modernized in the 1970s, is still largely at the foundation of the system we have today. No matter how many times it is adjusted, too many Canadians are still falling through the cracks. There are literally hundreds of income and support programs for Canadians, delivered by dozens of departments and ministries. This complexity leads to our current service model missing many of the Canadians most in need, and focuses too often on applications and auditing Canadians and far less so on delivering the actual support they need. Meanwhile, even with these programs, income inequality continues to grow despite our deliberate efforts to tackle it.

I am so proud of the many ways our federal Liberal government has tried to directly address income inequality and reduce poverty over the last five years, such as raising taxes on the top 1%, reducing it on the middle class, introducing the Canada child benefit, increasing the Canada workers benefit and increasing the guaranteed income supplement for seniors, among many other things. We have greatly reduced poverty in Canada by over a million people, but income inequality continues to be an issue. That is why I believe it is time to review the foundation of our social welfare system and bring it into the 21st century. I believe that a new service model could be a guaranteed basic income program, one that may simplify our social programs while better delivering support.

Even before the pandemic, almost half of all Canadian families were $200 away from coming up short on their monthly bills. The jobs they rely on are not what they used to be. People used to turn to part-time and temporary work as a last resort during tough times, but now for many, multiple jobs are needed to pay the bills and meet responsibilities.

Indeed, the world of work is changing faster than ever before. More workers are shifting to the gig economic, there are more temporary and short-term jobs, and many jobs, whether blue collar or white collar, are being eliminated by automation and artificial intelligence. In addition, disruptions in our economy are happening at an accelerated rate, faster and more frequently, leaving more Canadians working harder, longer and feeling like it is more difficult to get ahead.

Throughout history, humans have had to adapt to major disruptions like the ones we are going through now, which include COVID and the move to digital economy, among many others, and we eventually do adapt. However, the period of change can be harsh, even ruthless, leaving countless workers behind, with many never recovering. Our social safety net is not well designed to help Canadians through transitions, so in my opinion we need a new model, one that provides stability to those who have been trapped in a cycle of poverty, to those who are in danger of falling into poverty and to the middle class threatened by disruption.

Workers cannot weather economic change without a strong financial floor under them that provides them with stability. Too many jobs no longer provide that floor. Low-wage work prevents people from moving on to better opportunities. People cannot take time to train for tomorrow's job market or turn an idea into a business that employs other people. People need financial freedom to move up the economic ladder and innovate.

Young people understand this volatile future because they are already living it. They know that the guarantees made to them no longer hold true. We promised them a middle-class lifestyle if they got an education and worked hard. Instead, they are inheriting an economy facing non-stop disruption. They are being forced into a gig economy and temporary jobs or facing threats from automation. We need a social welfare system that is more responsive, less complex, more flexible and better at managing labour changes, disruptions and transitions. A basic income program can offer that.

Finally, I see the guaranteed basic income as a cornerstone of Canada's innovation and economic growth strategy. Providing an equal opportunity for everyone to succeed is a fundamental value at the heart of Bill C-273. We need a system that removes all obstacles regarding access to opportunity and that allows people to be their best selves. Canada's economy and success will be dependent on our ability to innovate. The only way for Canada to achieve its economic potential is by allowing all Canadians to achieve their full personal potential.

It is vital to note that the operational design of a basic income program is critical to its success. Ron Hikel, director of the MINCOME Manitoba program, said there are three essential design features of a system that will provide sufficient income and address variability of income, greatly encouraging work, minimizing fraud and reducing public costs. The design of any basic income model or implementation pilot must be thoughtful, and guaranteed income implementation pilots should be monitored and adjusted as they unfold to ensure they are producing the impacts that are desired.

There are three common often repeated myths of basic income. One, it will encourage people to stay at home and not work; two, social programs that are helpful will be eliminated; and three, it will cost too much.

Basic income pilots have been tested all over the world. Beyond our borders, countries such as Japan, Finland, Iran and the United States have tested it. The verdict is that a basic income helps reduce poverty without reducing people's desire to work. Some people find that last part hard to believe, even though basic income recipients in pilots around the world show they continue to work. That is because most basic income models would not cover all costs, but would provide the stability needed to improve options. Recipients of basic income do not see it as a handout but a resource that they use to retrain, go back to school or search for full-time work, and when they do, they often find better work, earn more and stay in jobs longer.

As for the cost, some people believe that the price tag is too big. However, real life has shown us that the cost of doing nothing is bigger. What is the cost of not altering a system that we know is outdated? What is the cost of not better supporting Canadians to be their best and more productive selves? In the end, it may be cost-effective, if pilots generate more value than they cost.

Before the pandemic, our social safety net was already failing; the pandemic just pointed a spotlight at it. In the months ahead, pandemic supports will start winding down, and families will go back to hoping that their limited monthly savings are enough to get by on. My sense is that we know they will not be.

We are faced with some big questions as we come out of this pandemic, and as we tally up the costs and face the hard truths that have come to light over the last 16 months. The late Shimon Peres, former president and prime minister of Israel, at the World Economic Forum in Davos in 2014 said that the world is changing faster than ever before, but the opportunity before us is to shape the world that we want to live in. So, what is the world that we want to live in? In Canada, what kind of society do we want to create?

Mark Carney tells us that the crises facing the world today come from a focus on price and profitability at the expense of fairness and income equality. Recognizing that our current models have not resulted in a fair and more equitable world, what are the right values for Canada to pursue now?

Maybe we want to create a base set of principles that is at the root of our society: that all Canadians have access to food, a roof over their heads, health care, freedom from violence, greater choice and full access to opportunity. Maybe we want to balance, making policy decisions that look only at improving productivity, efficiency and creating jobs while also providing Canadians with stability, dignity and personal growth that will have greater success in achieving those goals. Maybe we want to create a new foundation for our social welfare system, one that provides stability, dignity and the right incentives for all Canadians to be supported so they can contribute as their best selves.

We have done this before. After the Depression and World War II, a compassionate Tommy Douglas imagined universal health care for all men and women, many of whom he was seeing in the streets. Many had served in the war but, when coming home, could not afford health care and had become destitute. Tommy Douglas had imagined free health care services for all, and starting in one province he showed that it could be done and how best to do it. We then expanded health care to the rest of Canada, and we are not poorer as a country; we are richer for it. We also did this with public pensions and old age security for seniors. Again, we are a better, richer and fairer country because of these programs.

In conclusion, the world is in transition now, and it is a moment when we need our governments to step up and create the world that we want to live in. This is that moment. Our aging social infrastructure is ill-suited to support the needs of Canadians today. Too many people no longer have a fair shot at opportunity. Creating a new model that provides stability can restore a fair shot for everyone and boost our innovation and economic potential. A guaranteed basic income, as would be enabled by Bill C-273, is the simplest, fastest and most effective way to get it done.

National Strategy for a Guaranteed Basic Income ActPrivate Members' Business

June 14th, 2021 / 11:20 a.m.
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Bloc

Louise Chabot Bloc Thérèse-De Blainville, QC

Madam Speaker, I listened to the member plead her case at length, but what she is talking about is a pilot project with the provinces, not a guaranteed minimum income.

I will not comment on the substance of the matter, because a guaranteed basic income, or minimum income, has potential advantages. However, I have to point out that it is up to each province to introduce it. The social assistance programs we are talking about, the income assistance programs, ultimately, and other social programs are a provincial jurisdiction.

Rather than reflecting on these conditions for the 21st century, there are two things the government could do right away. First, it could strengthen and reform the employment insurance system for workers. Second, it could stop discriminating against some seniors and increase old age security for all seniors aged 65 and over.

Could my colleague comment on that?

National Strategy for a Guaranteed Basic Income ActPrivate Members' Business

June 14th, 2021 / 11:20 a.m.
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Liberal

Julie Dzerowicz Liberal Davenport, ON

Madam Speaker, there are two things that I want to address. The first is in terms of adjusting our current EI system. As I mentioned in my speech, it was a system that was created in another era, and it was meant to serve a population at a time with different challenges and opportunities. For me, it does not matter how many times we adjust the system. Still too many people cannot actually access the supports. Still too many people are falling into poverty. We do not have the agility and flexibility in the system that we need for the unpredictability of the work world that we see both today and in the future.

In terms of the participation of the provinces, support programs are actually offered both provincially and federally, and I think—

National Strategy for a Guaranteed Basic Income ActPrivate Members' Business

June 14th, 2021 / 11:20 a.m.
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NDP

Leah Gazan NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Madam Speaker, I want to congratulate my colleague on her private member's bill and advancing the idea of basic income. However, as we know, leading basic income efforts have indicated that basic income is actually not a silver bullet and it must be in addition to current and future government services and supports.

My concern is with proposed subparagraph 3(3)(d)(i), which provides the option of “the potential of a guaranteed basic income program to reduce the complexity of or replace existing social programs”. My concern was amplified last week, on June 3, when the member for Davenport voted in support of reducing the CRB from $2,000 to $1,200 come July, in the FINA committee, which is a totally unlivable income.

Is the member willing to make amendments to her bill to ensure that cutting our social safety net is off the table?

National Strategy for a Guaranteed Basic Income ActPrivate Members' Business

June 14th, 2021 / 11:20 a.m.
See context

Liberal

Julie Dzerowicz Liberal Davenport, ON

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for her leadership on this issue. There are two things I will address.

One is in terms of what support programs would be included in any type of basic income implementation pilot. The bill does not actually call for any programs to be reduced. I think it is just gathering the data as to what would be reduced if there are any programs that are flattened over time. It is really up to the provinces and territories to work with the federal government to come up with a pilot for their citizens. The principle should be that everyone is better off.

In terms of what the member referred to in the finance committee, there was a proposal to actually increase CRB, but it was ruled out of order because of a technical thing that does not allow motions to come before the finance committee that would increase the budget.

National Strategy for a Guaranteed Basic Income ActPrivate Members' Business

June 14th, 2021 / 11:25 a.m.
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Liberal

Mike Kelloway Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for Davenport for her important work on Bill C-273. In my riding of Cape Breton—Canso, health care is top of mind for all constituents.

Can you tell us about the relationship between basic income and social determinants of health, and how basic income can reduce the strains on our health care system?

National Strategy for a Guaranteed Basic Income ActPrivate Members' Business

June 14th, 2021 / 11:25 a.m.
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Liberal

Julie Dzerowicz Liberal Davenport, ON

Madam Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for his tremendous support and leadership. The reason we want to have these types of implementation pilots is that we want to test how we could better support our populations in an era that is changing faster than ever before. We know that the current costs of poverty and the current costs of not providing enough support to our population do have negative effects on health. I think that is the reason we want to be testing these implementation pilots moving forward.

National Strategy for a Guaranteed Basic Income ActPrivate Members' Business

June 14th, 2021 / 11:25 a.m.
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Conservative

Raquel Dancho Conservative Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Madam Speaker, it is very good to be back on the floor of the House of Commons. Like so many parliamentarians, I have been participating virtually for months, so it really feels great to be here today with you and everyone in the House.

I am pleased today to put some thoughts on the record concerning Bill C-273, an act to establish a national strategy for a guaranteed basic income.

What is a guaranteed basic income? There are many different policy iterations of it. On the whole, it would essentially be monthly cheques to every Canadian. Some of the policy iterations of this would provide basic cheques to children as well. The amount tends to vary depending on the plan, some having a few hundred dollars a month and others seeing it more as a means to cover all basic necessities, like CERB, which was of course $2,000 a month. In simple terms, a guaranteed basic income is like CERB, but for everyone, forever.

The Parliamentary Budget Officer has estimated that a national guaranteed basic income could cost $85 billion per year, rising to $93 billion per year in 2025-26. To pay for this at the federal level, Canadians could expect to see a tripling of the GST, which currently sits at 5%, or an increase of personal income taxes to 50%. Introducing a basic income following the costliest year in Canadian history, where federal government spending hit $650 billion in 2020 and is predicted to hit $510 billion in 2021, is cause for concern, especially since we have received no viable, tangible strategy of how the Liberals are going to raise enough revenue from taxpayers to responsibly pay back the $354 billion of deficits from 2020 or the $154 billion of deficits predicted for 2021. Just six short years ago, the federal budget was a mere $298 billion. The Liberals have doubled Canada's national spending during their time in office, and now want to talk about adding another $93-billion permanent spending program to the bottom line. I think Canadians are reasonably concerned about this.

The basic income proposal is about more than spending, of course. One of the main arguments is to address poverty, and policy proponents argue that the benefits to the country's social fabric will outweigh the costs. In 2019, Statistics Canada estimated that 3.7 million Canadians, or one in 10, live below the poverty line. A 529-page report, quite a lengthy report, by researchers and economists at three leading Canadian universities concluded after a three-year investigation that a basic income would not be the best way to address poverty. Rather, the report found that government should focus on improving existing programs that already target those who really need them, for example help with rental assist, youth aging out of the child welfare system or perhaps Canadians living with disabilities. Proponents of basic income argue that it will help those living at the extreme inequalities in Canada, those who are homeless, for example. We know that often those who suffer from homelessness also suffer from severe addictions, with the two often feeding into one another.

I have grave concerns about the impact of a basic income on Canadians suffering from addictions. We know that COVID‑19 has had severe, extreme and deadly outcomes in Canada since the pandemic began. In fact, overdoses have killed more young people, by far, than COVID‑19. In Toronto, fatal suspected opioid overdose calls to paramedics were up 90% in 2020. In Manitoba, 372 overdose deaths were recorded last year, which is a full 87% jump from the year prior. In British Columbia, the latest data tells us that an average of five people die every single day from illicit drug overdose, with 500 people having died in the first three months of 2021 alone. In fact, Canada-wide, in the six months following the implementation of the COVID‑19 lockdowns and restriction measures, there were 3,351 apparent opioid toxicity deaths, representing a 74% increase from the six months prior, a truly devastating statistic.

What happens if we send a monthly cheque of thousands of dollars to those who are severely addicted to drugs? When CERB was first introduced, a constituent of mine, a mother, called me in desperation, terrified that her adult son, who was unemployed and did not qualify for CERB, would apply for CERB, get it and have a severe and possibly deadly relapse. Frontline workers confirmed this fear, like those at Winnipeg's Main Street Project, who have said they believe that CERB has hiked drug use and contributed to opioid abuse and addiction. This is a real concern I have about a basic income, and I really have not heard a coherent solution to address it.

It is difficult to break out of the poverty cycle. We know this. The data tells us that once a person has been unemployed for more than a year, it can be extremely difficult to rejoin the labour market. It can create a dependency on social programs and a disincentive to work. In this sense, a basic income could create a permanent underclass in Canada.

Importantly, there is an inherent dignity in work. MPs are hearing from small businesses in our communities across Canada, particularly in the service industry and the construction field, that it is more difficult now than ever to hire workers and that prospective employees are opting to stay home on government emergency support programs rather than going to work.

Millions of Canadians are, of course, working and taking whatever work they can find, but some are not. We know working and earning an income provides both economic and social benefits. It is necessary for providing for oneself and one's family, and it also boosts confidence through the earned satisfaction of a paycheque. It provides purpose and builds personal responsibility, personal growth and perseverance. It provides daily structure and a reason to get out of bed in the morning. We know it contributes to our personal identity. Many people say “I'm a nurse”, I'm a truck driver”, “I'm a scientist”, or “I'm a small business owner”. It is part of who we are.

As Sean Speer said in the Financial Post a few years ago, “Work is one of those crucial activities and institutions that underpins the good life.”

Recently my grandfather passed away. He was 91, and he was born in the Prairies in the last pioneer generation in Canada. There were very few government support programs in his early days. CERB and public health care were unheard of at the time. People simply had to work very hard every day or they would not eat.

Now, we have developed a kinder, more compassionate society that takes care of people when they fall on hard times, and that is very good. My grandparents' generation built the strong prosperous country that allows for this type of public generosity in Canada. However, near the end of his life, my grandfather remarked that sometimes it seemed to him that young people feel a sense of entitlement to an easy life of comfort, free from struggle. As a young person, I do get that sense as well.

Last year, when CERB was first introduced and the Liberals were creating a student version of it, it happened to be at the same time that our country's food resources were at risk. Every year Canada brings in about 40,000 temporary foreign workers, generally from Central America, to work in our agriculture sector to produce the food that feeds Canadians and, in fact, feeds the world.

However, with the border closures, it was very difficult to get these workers in and our food supply chains were at risk. Now, with tens of thousands of service sector jobs in tourism, hospitality, and the restaurant and bar industry closed, many students who relied on that work for summer employment, and I use to be one of them, obviously did not have the same opportunities.

At the time, just over a year ago, the Conservatives suggested to have able-bodied young people, full of energy, work, as a temporary measure, in our agricultural sector. They could be picking fruit, working in the fields, living on farms for the summer, contributing to the COVID effort and really securing our food supply chains.

This proposal was met with quite a bit of apprehension, to say the least. In fact, when I consulted university student leaders during committee on this idea, one student, and I will never forget this, said that students go to university so they do not have to do those jobs. That is what she said. This was coming from a student who was at a committee meeting asking for government handouts for students.

The student benefit was important, and I am glad it was provided. However, I found these comments very discouraging, not just for the younger generation but also for what was implied, which was that a labour job or an entry-level job with limited requirements for complex skills or education was somehow not respectable, or that those jobs were beneath certain Canadians, notably some student university elites, apparently, who looked down their noses, perhaps, at an honest day's work in the sun.

What does that message send to those aspiring to break into the job market at the bottom of the ladder, or the millions of Canadians who have to work at minimum wage jobs. I was one of them. I worked in dozens of these types of jobs, in restaurants, retail and manual labour. I have done them all, and I am a better person for it. It taught me the value of hard work. It shaped my work ethic and character. I learned many valuable skills that really carry me today. I could go on about the value working part-time since I was 14, on and off, has added to my life.

We know there is no better way out of poverty than getting a job, even when someone has to start from the bottom. The experience, skills, and socialization are ultimately unmatched.

In conclusion, that is why the Conservatives and the Leader of the Opposition, the member for Durham, are focused on a jobs recovery plan from the economic destruction of the COVID-19 pandemic. Priority number one for a federal Conservative government would be to recover and create one million jobs, and get every industry in Canada firing on all cylinders and leaving no demographic or region of the country behind.

Meanwhile, the Liberals are here today to talk about basic income, which is more money for everyone forever. We know that is not a jobs plan. It is certainly not an economic recovery plan. Conservatives want to create an inclusive economic recovery that will build a stronger Canada with more opportunities for everyone, so they can succeed in the job market and not need to collect cheques from the government every month. That is our focus and will be our number one priority should we form government after the next election.

National Strategy for a Guaranteed Basic Income ActPrivate Members' Business

June 14th, 2021 / 11:35 a.m.
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Bloc

Gabriel Ste-Marie Bloc Joliette, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to acknowledge the member for Davenport, who introduced Bill C‑273. Everyone on the Standing Committee on Finance very much appreciates her contribution.

I studied economics for years, and I remember that the great union leader Michel Chartrand published a book about citizen's income with Michel Bernard. I was immediately intrigued by the idea. I was also surprised to learn that right-wingers such as the father of neoliberalism, Milton Friedman, also supported the concept. My professors and classmates and I debated it during our classes.

Whether it goes by guaranteed minimum income, basic income, universal allowance or basic living stipend, citizen's income will feature prominently in political debates in the years to come in Quebec, in Canada and around the world. There are two reasons for this: one, the unprecedented accumulation of wealth by advanced societies, most of which is being hoarded by a handful of individuals and must be redistributed; and two, the unprecedented growth in precarious employment, with its attendant insecurity, poverty and misery.

In Canada, the wealthiest one per cent hold 10% of the wealth, while over one-third of the labour force hold non-standard jobs. The social safety net no longer protects these part-time, self-employed or temporary workers. That is what this pandemic has proven, since the employment insurance regime fell apart as soon as the crisis began and the crisis seems to have once more exacerbated inequalities.

The various social programs, especially employment insurance and social assistance, do not provide the minimum social safety net our fellow citizens are entitled to receive. It is not surprising that vulnerable workers raise their eyebrows when promises are made regarding the right to a citizen’s income that would be paid without the exclusions and bureaucratic nitpicking that come with existing programs.

However, this generous plan to redistribute wealth in our society runs contrary to another plan: that of the guaranteed livable income promoted by advocates of neo-liberalism, which would be just enough to enable people to eke out a living in exchange for the dismantling of the current social safety net. Once again, the benefits of such a policy depend on how it is done and to what extent. Once again, as the saying goes, the devil is in the details.

Support for individuals and families is the responsibility of Quebec and the provinces, not Ottawa. Let us look at an example and ask ourselves about the consequences of allowing a program to be run by Ottawa instead of Quebec.

In 1940, Quebec ceded its jurisdiction over employment insurance to Ottawa through a constitutional amendment. As reform after reform was made to the system, employment insurance eventually lost its primary purpose and practically its fundamental meaning. EI collapsed at the beginning of the crisis, even though its very purpose was to provide insurance in this type of extreme situation, but it was already failing to fulfill its role even before the pandemic hit. Barely four out of 10 unemployed workers were entitled to EI benefits. For women and youth, it was about one in three. This tracks with the increase in the total percentage of jobs that are not permanent full time, which is over 40%. What is more, the different governments in Ottawa changed EI from an insurance program into a hidden tax by pilfering $59 billion from the fund, money that was effectively taken from the unemployed. Quebec agreed to a constitutional amendment and Ottawa did not play its role. It betrayed us.

The majority of the programs in the social safety net, aside from employment insurance, fall under Quebec's jurisdiction. I am talking about welfare, the CSST, the QPP, child benefits, disability benefits, and so on.

A guaranteed minimum income in Quebec would require a major overhaul. Because so many programs have been adopted since the 1960s, it would be very complicated to dismantle the existing social safety net and bring in this universal policy. Dismantling these programs could end up making many people receiving government assistance worse off. I am not saying that we should not do this because it is complicated, but we need to be well aware of what we are doing. We would have to ensure that no one who might be affected by this kind of change would see any change to their well-being. I am thinking about seniors, single mothers and people living with a disability.

Furthermore, because of the way Canada's federation is structured, this kind of program would require the federal and provincial governments to work together closely, which is always a big challenge. In the best case scenario, Ottawa collaborates in the initial stages of a program, as appears to be the case with the new child care program. However, Ottawa has an unfortunate tendency to renege on its commitments and break its word. Health care and EI are examples of that. Just ask the first nations: This country has a history of failing to keep its word.

If Quebec wanted to establish a citizen's income, it would have to repatriate the employment insurance program. However, as constitutional scholar Henri Brun pointed out to the Commission nationale d’examen de l’assurance‑emploi, co-chaired by Gilles Duceppe and Rita Dionne-Marsolais, the federal government's exclusive jurisdiction over employment insurance “could not be transferred to the provinces, or Quebec in particular, without a constitutional amendment” that would have first obtained the agreement of seven provinces representing more than 50% of Canada's population. As they say, good luck, Charlie Brown.

In practical terms, establishing a citizen's income, or even a more modest guaranteed minimum income program, necessarily involves the collaboration of the two levels of government, because the income security system is a complex web of assistance and social assistance measures, not to mention there would be major implications for income tax rate structures.

If Ottawa were to embark on such an initiative, as suggested by Bill C-273, it would effectively be expanding, not to say intruding, into Quebec's constitutional areas of jurisdiction. The history of such intrusions calls for caution, to say the least.

Does the Liberal Party really want to reopen the Constitution? That is what should be done here with, I repeat, the agreement of the seven provinces that represent over 50% of the Canadian population.

Take health, for example. Although health falls under provincial jurisdiction, that did not prevent Ottawa from using the spending power it is granted under the Canadian Constitution to intervene. In 1957, the federal government passed the Hospital Insurance and Diagnostic Services Act by promising to cover 50% of the cost of the provincial and territorial plans that provide hospital insurance to all of their residents. In 1966, the federal government passed the Medical Care Act by promising to share the costs fifty-fifty.

What is happening today? Federal transfers may have covered 50% of health care costs in the 1970s, but today they barely cover one-fifth of Quebec's health care costs. What is more, this percentage will drop to about 18% in a few years because Ottawa unilaterally decided to use a new formula related to GDP growth, which will deprive Quebec of billions of dollars. We know that this government's approach involves throwing the provinces some crumbs if they meet certain conditions. The Liberal health minister from the previous Quebec government referred to this as predatory federalism.

The federal government also changed its rules for how it allocates budgetary funding among the provinces. The allocation is now done on a per capita basis, even though Quebec's population is older and seniors depend more on health services than younger people do. The Government of Quebec calculates that because of this new rule the province will lose $174 million a year and over $2 billion over the next ten years.

The Commission nationale d'examen de l'assurance-emploi showed that the federal system is not adapted to the specific needs of Quebec and its regions, any more than the federal health transfers are. There is every reason to believe that it would be the same story with the citizens' income.

To recap, if Ottawa wants to set up a guaranteed minimum income that would enable people to live with dignity, it would have to reopen the Constitution with the approval of seven provinces representing over 50% of the Canadian population. Canada, Quebec and the provinces would also have to agree to replace, in whole or in part, existing social programs, such as EI, supports for seniors like the GIS, social assistance, programs provided by Quebec's Commission des normes, de l'équité de la santé et de la sécurité du travail, Quebec pension plan payments, child benefits, disability benefits and so on. Governments would also have to ensure that nobody affected by the transition, such as seniors, single-parent families and people with disabilities, would end up worse off than before. Lastly, we would all have to trust Ottawa and hope it keeps its promise not to take a program everyone finally agreed on and slash it a few years later. That has never happened because Ottawa has never shown that it deserves anyone's trust when it comes to administering social measures.

The Bloc Québécois finds the idea of citizen's income to be worthy of consideration, but Ottawa cannot be the one in charge. Quebec absolutely has to be the one in charge because running it in the context of the Canadian federation would pretty much be mission impossible. In other words, and I mean this sincerely, a citizen's income that actually works is possible only if Quebec is independent.

National Strategy for a Guaranteed Basic Income ActPrivate Members' Business

June 14th, 2021 / 11:45 a.m.
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NDP

Leah Gazan NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Madam Speaker, I would like to start out by congratulating my hon. colleague, the member for Davenport, for her private member's bill, because we know what we have learned during the pandemic is that our social safety net is patchwork and it is insufficient.

This is not an accident. This capitalist economy of Canada leaves those behind who do not fit into its economic agenda. Who is being left behind? It is disabled persons, people with complex mental health and trauma, people who are unhoused and living rough, people who do unpaid work and care work, seniors, veterans, students and the the list goes on. I think it is important to note that we cannot understand the poverty that we are experiencing today outside of race, gender, racism, ableism, colonization and the violent dispossession of land from indigenous peoples. To do otherwise is a futile exercise of washing over the ongoing white supremacy of racism that supports inequalities and inequities in the present.

We know that when we provide people with an income guarantee, along with wraparound social supports, it is a cost-saving measure. It is good economics to look after people. What we found is that during COVID-19, with the creation of the Canada emergency response benefit, a basic income is both possible and feasible in this country. There is no reason for anyone to live in poverty in Canada, and it comes at a very high cost. In fact, the World Health Organization has declared poverty to be the single largest determinant of health, and there is a direct correlation between poverty and high rates of incarceration.

According to federal data, the John Howard Society has shown that the annual cost per prisoner in federal prisons is about $115,000 a year for one person. In the MMIWG final report, the commissioners found that about 80% of indigenous women who are incarcerated are incarcerated for reasons related to poverty-related crimes, and therefore it is not surprising that in the report they included a demand for a guaranteed livable basic income. The Parliamentary Budget Officer did a careful breakdown, between 2011 and 2012 and found that each Canadian pays $550 in taxes per year on criminal justice spending.

Do members not think that this money would be better invested in looking after people to make sure that people have what they need and to ensure that we can all live in dignity? Creating lasting and meaningful plans that use human rights frameworks to address poverty would be costly up front, but not nearly as expensive as doing nothing. So much research has already been done, study after study, to prove this. In fact, in 1970 in the Dauphin Mincome study, one of the most ambitious social science experiments ever in Canada, they saw a decrease in hospitalizations, improvements in mental health and a rise in the number of children completing high school.

The Ontario basic income pilot, the most recent study, found that participants of the Ontario basic income pilot project were happier, healthier and even continued working, which goes against all arguments that when we look after people it is a deterrent to working. There has been study after study and pilot after pilot, even though we know the results, as mentioned by my hon. colleague, the member for Davenport. Guaranteed income programs have great results.

Basic income is a way forward in lifting millions of Canadians out of poverty and empowering them to make their own choices.

Basic income would give workers leverage. No one would be desperate to take a job offered at any wage anymore as we saw with migrant workers and meat-packing plants across Canada during the pandemic. Companies operating without adequate safeguards despite warnings from health experts create breeding grounds for the COVID-19 virus.

A basic income would mean not having to put up with degrading work as people could be in a better place to refuse a job offer. This would put the power back in the hands of the workers giving them the power to walk away from abusive work situations.

Although basic income is not a silver bullet, it would save lives in many cases and it would heed the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls call for justice 4.5, which states:

We call upon all governments to establish a guaranteed annual livable income for all Canadians, including Indigenous Peoples, to meet all their social and economic needs. This income must take into account diverse needs, realities, and geographic locations.

However, after more than two years, the government has only recently released a national action plan with no implementation strategy. Not only has the government not acted on the calls for justice, but it was unfortunate listening to our Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that he said that he sees no path for a basic—

National Strategy for a Guaranteed Basic Income ActPrivate Members' Business

June 14th, 2021 / 11:50 a.m.
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NDP

Leah Gazan NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

I am sorry, Madam Speaker.

—which goes directly against call for justice 4.5.

Unlike this bill, the motion that I put forward, Motion No. 46, which I introduced last summer was very clear that a permanent guaranteed livable income would not cut our social safety net, rather add to it as stated in paragraph 5 of my motion, “in addition to current and future government public services and income supports meant to meet special, exceptional and other distinct needs and goals...”.

It is not clear in Bill C-273 that the option to get our social safety net is not on the table. Of particular concern is proposed subparagraph 3(3)(d)(i), which states:

—the potential of a guaranteed basic income program to reduce the complexity of or replace existing social programs, to alleviate poverty and to support economic growth,

Leading experts on guaranteed livable income have been very clear that basic income programs are not a silver bullet and basic income must not replace our existing social safety net. Rather, it must be in addition to our current and future public services and income supports that are meant to meet special, exceptional and other distinct needs and goals rather than basic needs.

It needs to build on our current guaranteed income programs that are no longer livable like old age security, the child tax benefit and provincial income assistance and expand them out for those who are falling through the cracks. When we leave people without choices, we place people at risk. Poverty costs lives. Poverty kills.

There is no reason why anyone living in Canada should be destined for a life of poverty. This is especially the case given that we continue to witness billions of dollars gifted by the current Liberal government to subsidize corporations, including the $18 billion in the past year to big oil and gas.

The government has also failed to go after offshore tax havens and companies like Loblaws that have profiteered off people's suffering during the pandemic and have cut pandemic pay for frontline workers. The pandemic has only made the dire situation of poverty for individuals worse.

We must prioritize people and the collective well-being of our communities, families and individuals over corporate privilege. We must move forward toward a future where all people in Canada can live with dignity, security and human rights. This future is possible. It is simply a political choice.

I would like to congratulate the member on this historic step today. I am pleased to see her moving this conversation about basic income forward and I look forward to working with her to improve the bill.

National Strategy for a Guaranteed Basic Income ActPrivate Members' Business

June 14th, 2021 / 11:55 a.m.
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Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak on private member's bill, Bill C-273, an act to establish a national strategy for a guaranteed basic income, sponsored by my colleague, the member for Davenport, who is also a colleague at the finance committee.

I congratulate the member for Davenport for putting into a legislative format what has been discussed for years. In fact, various concepts of a basic income guarantee have been attempted over many decades, but for one reason or another there is less than complete documentation on how those systems worked, if it was even completed.

There was a program that was mentioned by another speaker in Dauphin, Manitoba in the 1970s, which was a different time from now. The data is really not available in a substantive way. The most recent trial, at least in this country, was the Ontario basic income pilot, brought in as a pilot project by the previous Wynne government, which was then cancelled by the incoming Ford government before any results were known. I think there was a lot of hope in that project that it would give us a baseline of how a guaranteed annual income would work.

Bill C-273 does not preconceive what is the best or the perfect basic income approach, but the bill sets the stage to try different pilots, to attain data in real time and to monitor results. It basically pushes the federal government to provide leadership in this national strategy.

Bill C-273 would require the Minister of Finance to develop and table a strategy to assess implementation models for a guaranteed basic income program in Canada. What the bill is really saying is that there could be different models. The government would be responsible for assessing them, for attaining the data. The act would require development, in consultation with key stakeholders, including industry, indigenous communities and governments, as well as municipal, provincial and territorial governments.

I heard what some of the other speakers on this bill said, some in opposition to it. My good friend from Joliette, who is also a member at the finance committee, said that this would require a constitutional amendment. Not so. This concept could vary from province to province. What we really need is the data to assess whether it would really work as well as some people suggest it would. There would be all kinds of consultations and the federal government would be required to do that under this bill.

The act outlines specific measures that the strategy must contain, including pilot project, national standards and measures for the collection and analysis of relevant data. I think that is key. I talked to a friend on the weekend who said that a guaranteed annual income is just going to be like CERB was with people not wanting to work. I do not think that is necessarily the case. People may improve their education. They may go for better jobs. They may look for better-paying jobs. As a strong supporter of a guaranteed annual income approach, I am willing to put my beliefs on the line. I believe it would work. I believe people would still want to work. I believe it would address the poverty issues that we have in this country.

I am willing to say that we should do a pilot. Let us put our beliefs on the line. Those who oppose the bill, saying that it will be a waste of money, which people will spend on drugs or whatever, should put their beliefs on the line. Let us actually do a sincere pilot where we collect the data in real time and prove it one way or the other. That is where I think we should be going. The minister, at the end of the program, would also have to prepare a report on the results of implementation two years after the tabling of the strategy. I think that is really important.

Let me turn to subclause (3)(a) in the bill, which states “establish a pilot project in one or more provinces to test models of implementation of a guaranteed basic income program.”

I come from Prince Edward Island, a province that has shown a willingness at the provincial level for the province as a whole to be one of those pilot projects. The member for Charlottetown and I have met with countless groups on the guaranteed income approach, and this province would be absolutely ideal for a pilot project.

There is the province as a whole; then bigger communities, smaller communities, rural ones and urban ones; hospitals and schools; and only 158,000 people. We could have a pilot project over time in Prince Edward Island. There is the willingness on the provincial side, which passed a motion in the legislature, to work with the federal government to attempt one of those pilot projects. This is really what we need. It would provide the evidence to show whether the system works or does not work.

Subclause (3)(d) reads “collect and analyze data for the purpose of assessing, for each model tested.” That is where we need to be. We need to do the pilots. I would suggest to do three across the country. I know there is some interest in B.C. and maybe in a bigger urban area as well, but do the pilot projects, monitor the data and assess it.

Then we all as members of Parliament, regardless of what our position is, would have the concrete evidence in real-time based on data that has monitored how it impacts people, their health, their income, their community and how it impacts people in the workforce. We would have evidence on whether people are willing to go to work or increasing their education and looking for higher-paying jobs. That is the kind of information we need and that is what I really like about the member's bill. There are no preconceived notions, only that we should do the experimentation.

I want to close by mentioning former Senator Hugh Segal. He is quoted in an article by Jamie Swift in the Whig Standard, in which he talks about his book Bootstraps Need Boots: One Tory's Lonely Fight to End Poverty in Canada. Senator Segal has long been an advocate of a guaranteed annual income for dealing with the poverty issue in Canada. This is a way to find out if it really works.

National Strategy for a Guaranteed Basic Income ActRoutine Proceedings

February 22nd, 2021 / 4:35 p.m.
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Liberal

Julie Dzerowicz Liberal Davenport, ON

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-273, An Act to establish a national strategy for a guaranteed basic income.

Mr. Speaker, it is my absolute honour to introduce my private member's bill: an act to establish a national strategy for a guaranteed basic income. It would require the Minister of Finance to develop a national strategy to assess implementation models for a national guaranteed basic income program as part of Canada's innovation and economic growth strategy. It is time we find a 21st century solution to support Canadian workers, and for all Canadians to have an equal opportunity to succeed and contribute.

I look forward to the debate and to receiving support from all.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)