Tessa Soderberg who used her GLBI to pay for medication for her guide dog. Credit: Jessie Golem

Canada has moved one step closer to becoming a more compassionate country. Yesterday, NDP MP Leah Gazan for Winnipeg Centre presented a private member’s bill, Bill C-223, to develop a national framework for a permanent Guaranteed Livable Basic Income (GLBI) in Canada.

In a press release, Gazan stated,  

“Since the pandemic began more people are living in poverty, while the wealthiest have become even richer. It’s shameful that the government is standing by and letting this happen. This bill is a response to calls for a guaranteed livable basic income from Indigenous, territorial, provincial and municipal jurisdictions who clearly recognize the need to modernize our social safety net. A GLBI is not only good for our economy but also critical to ensure that all individuals are able to live with dignity and security – rights afforded in the Canadian Charter.”  

The proposed GLBI would be for all people living in Canada over the age of 17 regardless of participation in the workforce or an educational training program. The proposal would ensure cost of living is considered and that provisions are included to ensure there would be no claw back of services or benefits meant to meet an individual’s exceptional need related to health or disability.

Senator Kim Pate also brought forward a similar initiative in the Senate yesterday afternoon. At the Canadian premiere of the documentary The Human Picture on November 17th, Senator Pate commented that the film contained fantastic information that made people think – especially those from such disparate backgrounds.

Pate went on to say, “Jails are full of the people who have the least and who don’t pose the greatest risk to society. Income is one of the fundamental requirements missing and murdered Indigenous women are more likely to end up missing or dead or incarcerated than in university.”

Hamilton featured heavily in The Human Picture (20 minutes), which dispels the myths associated with a GLBI and makes a business case that is impossible to deny.

Based on the Ontario Basic Income (OBI) pilot launched under the Wynne government and cancelled by the newly elected Ford government, The Human Picture tracks life after OBI for participants Jessie Golem, Tim Button, Rhonda Castello and Tessa Soderberg.

With 4,000 participants, the pilot, launched in 2017, was the largest study of its kind worldwide. In Hamilton, 1,000 participants were guaranteed three years of OBI. To qualify their income had to be below $30,000 per year with the monthly OBI amount maxing out at $1,4000 but adjusted for income. The yearly maximum was $17,000 for an individual and $24,000 for a couple.

Golem, a photographer and music teacher, was the creator of Humans of Basic Income: a series of photographs documenting the experiences of those living on OBI in Hamilton, Brantford, Lindsay and Thunder Bay. Her photographs became the basis for the documentary.

An OBI recipient herself, Golem received $700 per month which let her quit two of her four precarious part-time jobs to focus on her photography business. That ended when Ford pulled the plug on the pilot on March 31, 2018. Since then, participants have been unable to complete establishing their own businesses, finish their post-secondary education, or look for more stable, better paying and less hazardous work.

Tim Button suffered a work-related injury in November 2006. He spent the next two years on Workers Compensation before transitioning to social assistance. He lost everything and now rents in a room. When Button was receiving OBI he was able to eat better and his mental health improved. Since going back to Ontario Disability Support Payments his life has spiraled down.

Most provinces currently spend in excess of 50 per cent of their budgets on health care and this is only set to increase in the foreseeable future. A GLBI reduces the demand on the health-care system. The Mincome project, conducted from 1974 to 1978, proved there was an 8.5 per cent decrease in hospitalizations because the social determinants of health improved with a GLBI. It’s a no-brainer that poverty reduction means increased access to resources like better food, safer housing and money to pay for prescriptions.

No one knows this better than OBI participant Tessa Soderberg, who used the extra money to cover medication for her guide dog. At a cost of $225 per month, Soderberg said that used up one-quarter of her monthly income before she became a OBI recipient. It also enabled Soderberg to buy triple mix for her garden so that she could grow more of her own food and increase her food security.

Somewhere between 3.7 and 5.9 million Canadians live in poverty with the majority being found in Indigenous populations as well as recent immigrants, racialized people, senior women, single parents, people with disabilities and the 35,000 Canadians who on any given night are homeless. They all live with the additional burden of trying to stay safe during multiple variations of COVID. It is long past time to introduce a national GLBI.

Canadian Emergency Relief Benefit (CERB) proved to be a reliable safety net offered in a timely fashion in the midst of a pandemic. It provided a floor of $2,000 per month, an amount acknowledged to be the bare minimum Canadians needed to meet their needs while out of work due to COVID.

Geared-to-need is a less expensive form of GLBI to implement and adjusts to fluctuations in income that are common among individuals in lower income brackets. Using at least a $2,000 per month floor, the government simply needs to develop and implement strategies to reach those who don’t file taxes.

In a phone interview earlier this week, Tom Cooper, Director of Hamilton Roundtable on Poverty Reduction, said:

“We need another Tommy Douglas – someone to champion GLBI and to bring to the table the political leadership that has been lacking in Canada. We don’t need more pilots when we have plenty of information from the Mincome and Ontario pilots. The evidence is concrete. We know it works. We need the political will to make it happen. Basic Income could be the most consequential policy of the twenty-first century.”

Gazan agrees that keeping people poor in this country is a choice and a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. As the pandemic continues to evolve, it’s never been clearer that Canadians need financial support through a stronger social safety net. Let’s hope Parliament and the Senate are listening.

The Human Picture is dedicated to the memory of Michael Hampson. Michael died after the Ontario pilot was cancelled. In his Humans of Basic Income photograph, Michael held up a hand-written note on Bristol board that said, “Basic income gave me back my dignity and faith in my community. Basic income is healing for recipients and our community. Stand with us.”

Editor’s note, Dec. 20, 2021: The spelling of Tim Button’s name has been corrected.