Opinion | Can We Win a BIG Investment for Northern Ontarians?

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Editors’s Note: This article was originally published through the Crane Institute for Sustainability.

In 1974 – 1979 in Dauphin, Manitoba, the federal government in cooperation with the Manitoba government conducted a unique experiment.  They decided to give everyone a minimum income to ensure that nobody lived in poverty.  Despite the thousands of files of data generated, the experiment ended abruptly with no follow-up after an election and change of government.  In 2011, however, Evelyn Forget published the findings from investigating the results of that experiment, which identified some rather unique outcomes.

First of all, the incentive to work didn’t disappear.  In fact, an interest in being productive members of society actually drove many people back to school and helped keep many youths in school.  The demands of the family farm (Dauphin was a farming community) weighed against schooling disappeared.  Worker stress was also greatly reduced, and hospital admissions fell as there were fewer farm injuries and decreased family stressors.  Overall, population health improved, their freedoms expanded and the economy thrived.  Crime dropped substantially.  Dauphin blossomed.  Even today, nearly 40 years later, the results of that experiment resonate: after securing better lives and higher education, many parents were able to give their children a leg up on their futures – financially secure, better educated, healthier childhoods, improved future incomes and job security.

The results of this experiment demonstrate that a basic income regime is a fantastic way to improve health, quality of life, the economy, to stimulate innovation and creativity, and nurture family and personal relationships.  It’s no wonder that regions from Finland to the Netherlands are examining how to implement a basic income guarantee (BIG).

Fast forward to today in Canada.  Both the federal and provincial governments have recently committed to undertake BIG pilots.  We don’t yet know the details of those pilots, but provincially,Hugh Segal, a former Conservative senator and champion of basic income, has already been tasked by the Ontario Government to provide those details.  The BIG pilot is to look at important issues to determine how best a basic income guarantee can be rolled out across the province or country.

There are many questions to be answered, but one key question is where should a basic income pilot be conducted?

With a jobless rate approaching 20%, officially, in a single industry town threatened by closure of the primary employer, why not here, in Sault Ste. Marie? A basic income would provide essential relief to generate the creativity, learning, innovation and economic stimulus to diversify the economy.  It would provide a strong backstop to emigration and stem the outflow of our youth community.  A basic income would enable local artists in all areas to pursue their passions, and support their remarkable creativity.  Pressure on local law enforcement agencies would drop as crime rates would fall.  Relieving family financial stress and health impacts of many workers’ lives would reduce hospital admissions and improve overall health outcomes, opening a pressure valve on the staff at the SAH and other local health facilities, and de-escalate our dire search for physicians. These results have been demonstrated time and time again as in Dauphin.  There’s a reason basic income guarantee is called a guarantee, and it has as much to do with the guaranteed outcomes as it does with income.  That level of assurance is something you won’t see in any austerity measures, private sector subsidies, industry bail outs, or other reactive economic measures.

BIG is also something that is forward looking to the disruptive role of technologies in the economy.  For several decades, technology has been displacing jobs, making decent, well-paying jobs increasingly difficult and competitive to find.  From blue collar workers to lawyers, doctors, engineers, scientists and accountants, new technologies are making jobs in many fields obsolete.  This will continue and accelerate, as it should: the goal of humanity should not be to create jobs and work; the goal should be to pursue interests and be productive.  We simply cannot expect to have both technological progress and a class society oriented around wage labour in the future.  Being productive members of society and the desire to be productive will always remain; how we achieve and define that has already begun to change.

Some have suggested that a BIG is too costly, but this is little more than a myth perpetuated by those too wedded to the status-quo to consider change or simply ideologically driven.  The cost of poverty in Canada – all those crimes, health costs, lost productivity, economic burdens, personal and community suffering – is approximately $86 billion annually.  That’s a cost to the Canadian economy taxpayers must mitigate – by earning an income to pay the taxes to cover those expenses.  The cost of a national BIG for every Canadian?  $30 billion.  That doesn’t include the savings from preventing the costs of poverty in the first place!  In other words, a BIG would pay for itself three times over and still save Canadians billions. At barely 1/3 the cost of doing nothing, a BIG is a guaranteed win-win-win.

A basic income won’t solve every problem, and a basic income won’t ensure equity across society – a key measure of healthy, economic resilient, innovative, and prosperous states.  There are many that have needs that go beyond a basic income, and this is why a basic income cannot and must not replace the preexisting social safety nets, such as healthcare.

But a basic income would give people skills through education, and time through income relief to innovate and create new businesses.  A basic income will provide the food, housing and shelter necessary to live a dignified life. It could expand the voluntary and third economy in leaps and bounds.  A BIG would enable everyone to pursue their passions.  By reducing costs substantially, a BIG will save every taxpayer, individual and business alike.  People would be free to choose their life paths and careers; free from economic coercion and financial insecurity.

Basic income is not a means of becoming financially wealthy, but it will ensure sufficient income to meet essential needs in a dignified manner for many now suffering the wrath of poverty. It will allow for personal and community growth and development far beyond financial wealth alone.  Given the urgent situation in the Sault, every citizen should be knocking on our politicians’ doors, emailing them, calling them and demanding they put in a good word on the design and roll out of these pilots.  The Sault can’t wait any longer.  We can’t keep doing the same thing we’ve done for decades and expect any different results.  The Sault needs change now, and opportunity is knocking.  Will we answer the call?

If this sounds interesting, we encourage you to contact our local politicians to make a BIG investment in the people and communities of Northern Ontario.

David Orazietti http://davidorazietti.onmpp.ca/

Kathleen Wynne https://correspondence.premier.gov.on.ca/EN/feedback/default.aspx

Terry Sheehan http://www.parl.gc.ca/Parliamentarians/en/members/Terry-Sheehan(88944)

City of Sault Ste. Marie http://www.saultstemarie.ca/City-Hall/City-Council/Members-of-Council.aspx

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