Photo: CC, Green Party of Canada

The Green Party has included in their platform a proposal to create a Guaranteed Livable Income for Canadians that would be paid out to all. Some call this the next best step in social welfare policies, others don’t support it.

Point: A minimum income will benefit all

According the Green Party website a guaranteed liveable income program could be expected to cost $25 billion.

But before we laugh them off and return to our daily ritual of reciting the popularized words of Adam Smith, we should consider what the result would be if inhabitants of this country are given the means to lift themselves out of poverty.

In monetary terms the amount paid by federal and provincial governments to income support programs is currently $185 billion, while the Green Party’s proposal will only cost $25 billion. According the Green Party website a third of all Canadians make less than $20,000 a year, the targets of the proposed program. This is a lower price than our current programs which aren’t working.

Unemployment is indeed structural and in some cases functional, poverty however, is not. The idea that we live in a society where everyone will have equal amounts of wealth or equal access to resources is an illusion.

Nonetheless, a significant reduction in the poverty rate is something our society should strive towards, since it improves the society as a whole. In purely economic terms, lowering poverty will save the government money in areas like healthcare, the justice system, and current social supports.  When it comes to policy however, we  must accept that there will be some level of income inequality.

The beauty of the concept of minimum income is that it doesn’t fall apart with these assumptions.

Prominent economists have argued that establishing a minimum income would be effective in simplifying the welfare system in a free market society, including Milton Friedman in his book Capitalism and Freedom. In Canada, the most recent Statistics Canada numbers on nationwide income show that 9.7 per cent of individuals between the ages 18-64, are classified as low income after tax, that’s a rate of nearly 1 in 10 Canadians.

For too long, low-income individuals have been demonized as ‘the unwashed masses’, members of the population who don’t contribute much to society. We’ve stripped the humanity out of the social system and have created a society in which millions of people have been disenfranchised from the main population.

It would be foolhardy to believe that minimum income on its own would solve all of society’s ills.

However, it is undeniable that this will positively affect a significant proportion of the population. A minimum income will increase people’s ability to support themselves and from that reduce costs in other areas.

Canada has a chance to be a pioneer in building a society based on principles of compassion, charity and humanity.

Counter Point: Establishing minimum income will add bureaucratic red tape

A minimum income is an idea that sounds good on paper. The concept is to give free money to citizens who really need it. In reality though this system is not free, and it is nowhere near perfect.

In the Green Party’s proposal the aim is for reach Canadian adult to have a $23,000 income, before any other living factors are calculated. The only people who will be receiving support are those who are receiving support from pre-existing social services like welfare.

We already have systems in place to assist people who need help, so it remains unclear why we should add another. If existing social programs are not reaching as many people as they could be, then we are better served by improving these services, rather than overhauling the entire system.

If minimum income is implemented while other social programs remain in place as well, the cost to the Canadian government will reduce its ability to perform other important tasks.  The money that the government would spend on minimum income payments could be better used by being redirected towards lowering tuition fees, which has a longer lasting effect on the economy than social payments. 

There will always be a divide between rich and poor in our society, no matter how hard we try to eliminate it, and no matter how we feel about such a division. We have to accept that reality and work towards strengthening the existing social support structure we have in this country, which would be more effective in lessening the disparity.

The Greens haven’t released specific details of their plans, so the impact on existing programs remains unclear. All of the bureaucratic work it will take to get a new system up and running will either cost the government more than it should, or will result in a lack of payments out to the people that need them as  the system turns over.

We all want to do right by our fellow Canadians but a minimum income isn’t the way. Instead of throwing money around,  let’s focus on making existing systems more efficient and creating jobs.