- Barbara Yaffe lets Hugh Segal make the case for a guaranteed annual income to end poverty in Canada:
(Hugh Segal) says it could be arranged by way of a tax credit through the income tax system, to top up income of anyone falling below Statistics Canada’s Low Income Cutoff (LICO).- Meanwhile, Alex Himelfarb proposes that we measure our actions as a society by how we treat those who have the least:
LICO for a single person is about $22,200; for a family with three children, roughly $47,000.
“In other words,” writes Segal, “being poor would become a problem we all buffered in the same way as we buffer all Canadians relative to health care.”
He estimates the annual cost at about $10,000 per person.
But when all the billions now spent on health care and heavily stigmatized welfare payments — to alternatively address needs of the poor — are subtracted, the net cost to government would be zero.
“The cost to our Canadian economy of poor Canadians dropping out of school, getting sick faster, staying in hospital longer and living shorter lives than the rest of us is in the billions.”
Cost savings to governments would indeed be real, according to a study cited by Segal, carried out by University of Manitoba health sciences professor Evelyn Forget.
Forget tracked an 8.5-per-cent drop in hospital visits among a sample group of farm families in Dauphin, Man., who were part of a 1970s-era federal experiment guaranteeing minimum incomes in case of crop failures.
That experiment also rendered invalid a notion that guaranteed incomes prompt recipients to quit work to become couch potatoes.
“The efficient and humane thing to do is to take the example of Dauphin and learn from it,” writes Segal, noting Ottawa wouldn’t need a new bureaucracy to deliver guaranteed incomes.
“We have the (tax) system in place.”
International agencies and a number of countries are developing indices that take into account equality, sustainability, democracy and trust, as well as economic performance. In Canada, Roy Romanow has proposed just such an index, and recently David Suzuki added his voice to the campaign to think beyond GDP — promoting a measure of General National Happiness with a central place for the health of the environment, which enables all else. These are welcome initiatives because they ask us to consider what is important, what our future ought to look like.
To this work I would propose the addition of another measure, which despite its long pedigree is too easily overlooked. Gandhi and Pope John Paul II, Aristotle and John Rawls, and artists through the ages have all reminded us that the real test of any society is how we treat the weakest among us. Here too, with glaring exceptions, none more shameful than our relationship with aboriginal peoples, we have done pretty well. For example, we have historically been above average on measures of equality, well ahead of the U.S. We were seen as proof that diversity and equality could coexist, that empathy and sharing could bridge differences in language, culture, lifestyle. We came to see immigration as a solution, not a problem, and to be open to refugees.- And lest there be any doubt, the trend toward gorging at the top is only continuing - as the CCPA points out in its annual reminder that our CEOs have already soaked up more money in 2013 than the average Canadian will all year.
Even in our relationship with aboriginal peoples, this government’s historic apology for some of the most grievous wrongs could have been a signal of a new, more respectful relationship (especially needed after the abandonment of the Kelowna Accord).
When governing is all short-term economic growth, then aboriginal rights and environmental protections become inconveniences to be ignored or managed. Refugees, the unemployed and the poor come to be seen and treated as freeloaders, a drag on the economy, rather than fellow citizens, often victims of an increasingly mean version of capitalism. And criminals are turned into convenient scapegoats for our fears and discontents, the most heinous offences and frightening offenders used to blind us to the reality that those are people in our prisons, most of whose lives could be repaired.
Our leaders try to convince us that the health of the so-called job creators is more important than that of the weakest among us. And, it seems, many of the richest and most powerful come to believe this and act on that basis, what some have called “trickle-down meanness,” one of the consequences of rising inequality, particularly when growth disproportionately benefits a small group of super-rich able effectively to secede from society and its mutual obligations. On measures of equality, we are slipping to the bottom relative to other rich countries.
The debate brewing about how to measure success is not just about measurement. It is a recognition that we need to participate in a real discussion about what we mean by the good life, the purpose of the economy, the kind of Canada we want. It is about decency and dignity. It is about our political and democratic institutions, the need to find much better ways to ensure that all voices, particularly those speaking for the marginalized, are heard. This may be the only way to restore a sense of the common good and win back the many who have given up on politics, party and government.
- Finally, I don't recall seeing too many Canadian examples of the U.S.' trend toward embarrassingly contrived equivalances between parties. But Michael Valpy makes quite the effort, placing scattered comments from a T-shirt design shop and unnamed "Internet posters" on par with the systematic demonization and defunding of dissenting voices by the Harper Cons' cabinet in order to blame all sides for a "politics of discord".