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.