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How to get from an idea to a policy

This post is based on a talk presented on August 24, 2019

at the 19th Basic Income Earth Network Congress in Hyderabad

In August 2016 I set myself the goal of getting Basic Income implemented in Canada in my lifetime (I’m now 65). My immediate goal was to get the ruling Federal Liberal Party to put the issue on the platform for the October 2019 election. This is an individual effort requiring no resources other than a bit of time and a lot of persistence.

Amazingly, it's not all that difficult to connect with some powerful and influential people. Many up-and-coming leaders will remember the help and support I gave them when they were getting started and were open to new ideas. All relationships with engaged citizens are an investment. You can’t predict which connection in your network will prove fruitful.

The Federal Liberal Party had twice voted into the party program resolutions favourable to Universal Basic Income at National Congresses in 2014 and 2016. This didn't mean, I learned, that the issue would be part of the electoral platform presented to voters. Discovering how to do that is my story.

Obviously, I could get nowhere on the outside, so I joined the Party, contributed my tax-deductible $10 a month and offered to volunteer. “Welcome aboard! What are you interested?” I was asked after doing phone calls and door to door. “Basic Income!” I blurted out.

“That’s great! We'll put you in charge of that.”

So, at the 2018 Congress a resolution favourable to Basic Income was adopted for the third time.

That still left the question of getting the issue on the electoral platform. With a little digging, I succeeded in finding the coordinates of the guy who was actually writing the platform. Although the game isn't won, that comes as close as it getsto a home run.

Along my path of discovery, I drew some lessons about promoting Basic Income. The most important is how to frame it in a manner that doesn't exacerbate skepticism and prejudice.

For example, the association of UBI with poverty reduction is a dead end. Any mention of poverty to the general population is counterproductive; it's the kiss of death for any social policy. While politicians won’t dare disagree with poverty reduction, they will instinctively steer clear of the political suicide allocating funds to it entails.

A better approach is to present Basic Income as a dividend for the middle class, in order to provide the opportunities that are the birthright of everyone who lives in Canada. Advocates tend to spend too much time explaining how the system would work rather than extolling its benefits.

From a policy point of view, the objections to Basic Income are principally political and ideological rather than social and economic. This must be addressed vigorously, yet not head-on. Basic Income can be used as a winning (as in election winning) political issue. The specious arguments of short-sighted economists and pundits must be denounced and discredited. However, the public deserves to be treated with more respect. Their values must be acknowledged and validated. For instance, most people have an unfavourable gut reaction to anything that smacks of receiving or giving charity. The reaction is as deeply seated as it is unavowed. Any message must be crafted with this in mind. Basic Income will be integrated into the real world, not some hypothetical society of “improved” humans.

Part of my plan to transform an idea into policy is accepting the cards I'm dealt. People are the way they are and won't change before UBI is implemented. This is the key insight I am offering in the presentation of my experience and is, in my view, the secret to what it takes to transform an Idea into Policy. By all means dream the result. Use reality to get there.


The federal election was called two days ago and Basic Income is not on the platform of the Liberal Party. Perhaps a political platform is not the appropriate forum for Basic Income. Universal Health Care in Canada was largely implemented by behind-the-scenes negotiations. I suspect that this may be the most promising path to success for Basic Income.

I'm invited to a rally tonight where the prime minister (who is also my member of parliament) will be attending as candidate Trudeau. I will let you know how that goes.

UPDATE: The prime minister delivered his stump speech for the cameras, backed by many ministers, members of parliament and candidates. Then he waded through the crowd to exit. I got to shake his hand. I couldn’t establish eye contact, though.

Oh well, I will call his campaign manager and offer to volunteer...