While there is really nothing good one can say about a pandemic, the resulting lockdown has had some positive aspects. Not many, but some.
It has given us time to reflect, to see how some things can be done differently, to watch, and hopefully be wary, as various political agendas are pushed forward on the back of the pandemic, and to see clearly how some people really are living on the edge.
We will get through this pandemic. But when we do, the world will be different. There can be no doubt about that. Perhaps we need to be different too.
Canada will be facing massive debt and deficit problems for years to come. The manner in which many people work will change. It will be a long time before employment comes back to where it was three months ago and while there will inevitably be opportunity, it will also be harder for some people to get ahead. For certain, many things will be done differently.
During the past six weeks, I have crystalized my thinking about a guaranteed basic income for all adult Canadians and have concluded that, in some form, its time has come.
Coming from me, this will surprise some folks as many believe that a guaranteed income smacks of socialism. But I am not so sure anymore.
I first started thinking about this when Hugh Segal, a Conservative, albeit a Red Tory like me, wrote a report for the Wynne Liberal Government recommending a pilot project for a guaranteed basic income. Hugh Segal is a former senator and was chief of staff to Ontario Premier Bill Davis and Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. He is also a friend of mine, a former colleague, and a great Canadian! If he believed that a basic guaranteed income was a necessary human right, then it was something I needed to think about.
I am also keenly aware that the Ford Government scrapped the pilot project initiated by its predecessor but given recent events, I predict it will be reinstated in some form before Doug Ford leaves office.
For more than half a century, a tradition in our family has been to have a “boy’s lunch” during the Christmas season. This past December, I listened carefully as my nephews, both successful entrepreneurs, made the case for a basic guaranteed income. Then came the COVID-19 pandemic and I saw how quickly many aspects of our society could crumble and how fortunate some of us are to have safety nets while, clearly, many others do not.
And so, I finally concluded that a basic guaranteed income, is a good idea.
Now, to be clear, I am not an advocate of the Robin Hood philosophy: to take from the rich and give to the poor, or that everybody should be paid the same wage. Most people who are wealthy to one degree or another have worked hard for their success and have provided significant employment to others. Many have taken risks that others have chosen not to take. They pay taxes based on income and they support charities. They deserve to keep what they make after that.
The day we eliminate incentives and rewards for excellence and innovation and hard work will be a sad day indeed. One need only look to Cuba, where physicians must also work at airports as baggage handlers to make ends meet, to see how effective that would be.
On the flip side of the coin, I have heard criticism that a basic guaranteed income will encourage people not to work. I disagree with that as well. There will be some of that of course. There already is. But a basic guaranteed income would eliminate much of the need for welfare and, in some but not all cases, disability payments. It would mean that a mother or father staying home to raise their children could do so, and, by the way, that is real work! People living only on a basic guaranteed income would not pay taxes. Their standard of living would be adequate, but it would not be high, and, other than those who cannot work, it would be their choice.
Right now, however, in Canada in 2020 there are many for whom the standard of living is not adequate and, in fact, is well below that. Current signs are that it could get worse. We can argue about whose fault that is, but to me it has become a moot point. In my view, in my Conservative view, it is a human right in this day and age for every human being to have adequate health care, a roof over their head, and food on the table. Some will deserve it more than others, but all have a right to it. A guaranteed basic income would accomplish that, and all taxpayers should support it.
Strange how a lockdown can focus your thoughts, but that is the conclusion I have arrived at. And yes, it took me long enough!
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