The Hamilton Chamber of Commerce joined its Canadian counterparts in calling for a federal basic income pilot project.
While an appetite for a government program that guarantees citizens a minimum regular paycheck has always existed, 2020 has seen an unprecedented level of support—not only from social service and advocacy groups but also from organizations that have historically taken a more capitalistic stance on such matters.
This week, the Hamilton Chamber participated in the Canadian Chamber of Commerce’s (CCC) Virtual Annual General Meeting, where chambers from across Canada voted on policies the network will advocate for in Ottawa.
“The Hamilton Chamber advanced a resolution, co-sponsored by the Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce, calling for the Canadian government to create a basic income pilot project and assess the potential costs, benefits, pitfalls, challenges and outcomes of a nationwide basic income social assistance program,” according to a media release from the Hamilton Chamber.
“The proposal was adopted by the gathering of chamber attendees from across the country and is now one of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce’s policy resolutions that can be advocated for with the federal government.”
Ontario’s basic income pilot
Hamilton and Thunder Bay were two communities chosen by the previous provincial government for a three-year basic income pilot project. That project was cut short after one year due to a change in government.
Individual participants received $17,000 for the year, paid monthly; while low-income couples received $24,000. Whatever income participants earned was deducted from their basic income at 50 per cent. In other words, once someone made $34,000, they would no longer receive basic income.
Despite the newly elected premier, Doug Ford cancelling the pilot after only a year, McMaster and Ryerson University, in partnership with the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction, conducted their own evaluation of the program.
According to the study, not only did the vast majority of those employed before the pilot report that they were working while receiving a basic income, but many reported moving to higher-paying and more secure jobs.
With holes in Canada’s social safety net being exposed as businesses closed in March to help curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, the appetite for a system overhaul has intensified.
The chambers suggest a basic income pilot project would “serve evidence-based policymakers by helping governments understand whether basic income payments: are cost-effective, fiscally sustainable, influence recipients’ socio-economic outcomes, their participation in the labour market, and/or their uptake of education/training opportunities; alter participants’ use of existing social and/or income redistribution programs, and; lead to an increase in entrepreneurial activity.”
“I’m thrilled that our colleagues agreed that the time is ripe for the [Canadian Chamber] to have a position on one of the most topical and potentially transformational public policy proposals in our national discourse, guaranteed basic income,” said Keanin Loomis, CEO of the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce. “One could very easily see this as being a major issue in the next election.”
Depending on who you ask and what their biases are, the government cost of Universal Basic Income in Canada has been estimated anywhere from 10 to 50 per cent more than the programs already in place. However, proponents say those additional costs would be offset by a reduction in the use of emergency workers and the healthcare system as a whole.
According to the John Howard Society of Ontario, low-income Canadians greatly outnumber wealthier Canadians in the criminal justice system. They’re more at-risk of participating in crime because of the social and economic challenges they face. Low-income Canadians are also more likely to face significant barriers once they are involved in criminal justice processes.
Meanwhile, according to research by Astrid Guttmann, a McMaster University alum and Chief Science Officer at the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences, children living in low, compared with high-income households are more susceptible to:
- rates of low birth weight (LBW),
- infant mortality,
- childhood mortality from accidental causes and respiratory disease,
- hospitalization for injuries
- psychosocial and psychiatric behavioural problems.
As for some of the findings on Ontario’s UBI pilot conducted by McMaster and Ryerson University, in partnership with the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction:
- Everyone who received Basic Income reported benefitting in some way.
- Many recipients reported improvements in their physical and mental health, labour market participation, food security, housing stability, financial status, and social relationships.
- Basic income also had a noticeable impact on the use of health services, with many of the survey respondents indicating less frequent visits to health practitioners and hospital emergency rooms.
- For a significant number of participants, Basic Income purportedly proved to be transformational, fundamentally reshaping their living standards as well as their sense of self-worth and hope for a better future.
- Those working before the pilot reported even greater improvements on some measures of well-being than those who were not working before.
Capitalism and socialism unite
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused significant market disruptions and wreaked havoc on Canada’s economy.
The Government of Canada’s Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) program was created in the spring to assist those whose jobs were affected by the virus by giving them $2,000 per month. In just four months, the Government of Canada received 15.4 million applications from 8.4 million unique applicants.
“An ongoing basic income program could be one means of managing future market disruptions, be they from automation or pandemics,” concluded the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce.
Prior to 2020, the idea of a business advocacy group lobbying for a social program that would see the government give everyone money regardless of employment seemed far-fetched to put it mildly.
But so was a lengthy global shutdown caused by a virus.