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GUEST OPINION: Basic Income: A challenge to all federal politicians

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau - REUTERS PHOTO

Marie Burge
Guest opinion

Coalition Canada: BIG/revenu de base, is a national coalition made up of Basic Income Guarantee (BIG) action groups, representing nine provinces and one territory. Since its founding in November 2019, the Coalition has advocated for a national program of basic income which would be a fully funded, federal-provincial program. The Coalition proposes that P.E.I. would be an ideal launching place for BIG, which would mean implementing BIG with the advantage of a full-province experience. Having minority governments in both Ottawa and Charlottetown looked like an advantage.

For the past months, the Coalition has been contacting and engaging federal decision-makers of all parties in preparation for Lobby Week on the Hill (Oct. 20-22) advocating for a national BIG program. Then on Aug. 18, 2020 the first session of the 43rd Canadian Parliament was prorogued. This provided an immediate opportunity for the initiation of Basic Income Guarantee. The second session of this Parliament will begin on Sept. 23. This involves presenting a new plan of action in the form of the Speech from the Throne.

Dear Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Your Aug. 18, 2020 “Prorogation  speech” added a note of hope especially for vulnerable Canadians. You promised a new future for Canada. You were very clear that the government is determined to opt for new directions. You said that that these directions “will protect the lives of the most vulnerable people rather than serving the privileged one per cent.” Key phases from your speech are: “We have a choice to make. We can decide to move forward instead of returning to the status quo. We can choose to embrace bold new solutions to the challenges we face, and refuse to be held back by old ways of thinking.”

Vulnerable Canadians will be eager to hear how the “new ways” will be blueprinted in the Speech from the Throne. We anticipate a new plan for the redistribution of wealth. We expect to see directions which are based on the recognition of three grassroots movements which grew in strength in the first months of COVID-19. These three movements highlighted the following: that basic income is a right of all people so that all can have their basic needs met with dignity; that anti-racism is systemic, requiring deep systemic changes; and that global warming is The Definitive Emergency. The movements have expressed in multiple ways that their issues and goals logically and intentionally intersect.

We expect from your government some well-grounded, determined, and dynamic new solutions which will address the inequalities and gaps that you revealed as you did your utmost to respond to the huge number of Canadians who are always left behind, and more so in a time of crisis. In particular, we expect to see and hear in the Speech from the Throne that the next session of Parliament will move forward to create a Federal-Provincial Basic Income Guarantee for Canada.

Dear Jagmeet Singh, Leader of the New Democratic Party of Canada (NDP).

Your party’s unenviable position now is to provide the Liberal Party with the assurance of a needed majority vote on the Speech from the Throne (and to avoid an unwanted election). This scenario, although an important moment of power, is not without risk for your party. History shows that the collaboration involved in this relationship has not always favoured the NDP in the long run. We urge you to convince the Liberal government to protect the lives of the most vulnerable people rather than serving the privileged. The lives of the most vulnerable people will not be served as long as they do not have, as their right, the assurance of a Basic Income Guarantee to meet their human needs.

We unabashedly expect you and the New Democratic Party to use your bargaining power to force major changes. This is the time to concentrate on changing the system. Yes, we need Pharmacare, a remodeled EI, universal child care, affordable housing, and other support programs. But at the centre, it is essential to institute Basic Income Guarantee so that all people will be able to meet their daily needs with dignity. In particular, we expect the NDP to demand that the next session of Parliament will move forward with substantial steps toward creating a Federal-Provincial Basic Income Guarantee for all of Canada.

All Canada is watching!

Marie Burge is a staff member at the Cooper Institute in P.E.I., a member of the P.E.I. Working Group for a Livable Income, and a P.E.I. representative on Coalition Canada: Basic Income/revenu de base.

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