Liberal delegates endorse a universal basic income, reject capital gain tax hike
By John Paul Tasker · CBC News · April 10, 2021
Liberal delegates to the party’s policy convention have overwhelmingly endorsed a resolution calling for the establishment of a universal basic income (UBI) in Canada, while also rejecting a call to hike the capital gains tax.
By a vote of 77 per cent, Liberal members on hand for the policy plenary today backed a call to permanently implement an income program similar to the Canada emergency response benefit (CERB), which kept millions of people afloat with monthly cheques during the first wave of the pandemic.
With 8.7 per cent of Canadians living below the poverty line and thousands more struggling to make ends meet, backers of this policy say a UBI would “ensure that communities at risk (including Indigenous peoples) are able to feel financially secure.”
“Given the success of the CERB program, a UBI will assist seniors and low-income Canadians maintain an adequate standard of living, regardless of working status,” the resolution reads.
Speaking to delegates assembled online, Alex Spears of the Young Liberals of Canada said a UBI would ensure the country’s “strong and robust social safety net is adapted to the 21st century,” adding that a program to send cheques to all families is “completely consistent with our values as a party.”
He said the program would “put more cash in the hands of working Canadians and families” and could lift millions out of poverty.
“UBI is not a silver bullet and it ought to be done in conjunction with many other progressive policies, but it is a critical step,” he said.
Would a UBI work?
The resolution does not say how such a costly program would be designed and implemented.
Few jurisdictions around the world have successfully enacted programs that make regular payments to all citizens without means tests or work requirements.
The parliamentary budget officer last week concluded that a universal basic income could almost halve Canada’s poverty rate in just one year, but at a steep cost: $85 billion in 2021-22, rising to $93 billion in 2025-26.
While the resolutions are non-binding — the government ignored a 2018 convention vote to decriminalize all illicit drug use, for example — the policy endorsements could help inform future government spending and the Liberal Party’s election platform.
The government has said it’s preparing to spend up to $100 billion this year to kick start the post-pandemic economy even after it reported a record-high deficit of $381 billion in the last fiscal year.
While the idea of a UBI has gained traction in progressive circles — supporters maintain the massive price tag of such a program could be offset by dismantling existing provincial social welfare schemes — academics who study poverty reduction are split on its value.
A 529-page report authored by researchers at the University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University and the University of Calgary concluded after a three-year investigation that a basic income for all is not the best way to address poverty and other social problems.
Instead, the report said, governments should boost existing social support programs for vulnerable groups through improved disability assistance, dental care programs and more money to help the working poor pay rent. A more targeted approach to help the disadvantaged, as opposed to a universal program like UBI, would do more to lift people out of poverty, the report concluded.
Conservative MP Ed Fast, the party’s finance critic, said pursuing a UBI would be a “risky and unknown experiment that will leave millions more Canadians behind.”
He said the Liberal Party is trying to “reimagine” the Canadian economy while the country is still struggling with the pandemic.
“The fact that UBI was supported at the convention this weekend is par for the course with Justin Trudeau and the Liberals. Instead of focusing on creating jobs, they are fixated on implementing risky, expensive and untested economic policies,” Fast said.
Should Canada adopt universal basic income?
CBC News, April 10, 2021
Labour studies and economics professor Wayne Lewchuk of McMaster University says universal basic income can help people build on their existing careers without the fear of falling into poverty.