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Canada Child Benefit is Basic Income ‘hiding in plain sight’

In July 2016, the Liberal government of Justin Trudeau introduced Unconditional Basic Income to Canada and never mentioned it to anyone.

6.4 million Canadians can count on benefiting from about $500, tax-free, every month, no questions asked. This program contributes $46 billion per year to GDP, and adds $4 to GDP for every dollar it costs.

It's called the Canada Child Benefit (CCB).

Why have we not heard that this ongoing national program that has been running successfully for over 3 years is in fact a Basic Income? When the Ontario government announced the abrupt cancellation of the Basic Income Pilot Project involving 4,000 low-income people after a few short months, it was all over the news. A permanent nationwide Basic Income involving 6.4 million Canadians and their parents (19 million people in total) runs for three years with stunning success and not a word in the press.

Indeed, I have spoken with many Liberal Members of Parliament who all express dismay and disappointment at the lack of visibility the CCB has among their constituents. Yet Canadians know how Basic Income works because one has existed for close to 70 years.

"In 1951, following an amendment to the British North America Act to permit the federal government to operate a pension plan, the Canadian Parliament passed the Old Age Security Act, which provided a universal pension, or demogrant, of $40 per month financed and administered by the federal government. All Canadians aged 70 and over who could meet the more liberal residence requirements were eligible, regardless of their other income or assets. Pension payments began in 1952 and were taxable."[emphasis added]

Who was in power in 1951? Louis St. Laurent's Liberals!

Why focus, in this discussion, on only one Party? Isn’t that partisan politics? Some background:

The October 21st election is the perfect crucible in which to forge a new narrative about Basic Income in Canada. The center-left Liberals of Justin Trudeau, whose father was prime minister from 1968 to 1984, swept into power in 2015 after a decade of Conservative rule. The progressive New Democratic Party is thinking about Basic Income on a 30-year timescale. The Green party is demanding more tests. Only the Liberals can point to action, although they refuse to admit to it.

So, while Liberals can legitimately claim both a long history and recent accomplishments in implementing permanent Unconditional Basic Income programs (UBI), the public has no idea that here are two examples of highly successful Basic Income programs, hiding in plain sight! Both were introduced by Liberal governments and no one knows about it.

There is no mainstream recognition that Basic Income is a fait accompli in Canada. Sadly, many of the cognoscenti also resist this paradigm shift.

Yet a recent independent report shows that the CCB is not only an Unconditional Basic Income, it is a highly successful one for families and the economy. The report makes the following key points:

  • Canada has demonstrated the effectiveness of a national-scale Basic Income 6.4 million Canadians benefit from about $500, tax-free, each month

  • The CCB directly touches approximately 19 million people. It's not just a test

  • The CCB is an ongoing national program that has been running successfully for over 3 years

  • The CCB contributes $46B annually to the Canadian economy – exceeding the economy of Nova Scotia

  • CCB-related spending drives $85B / year in revenues and $18B in gross profits to businesses

  • 453,000 full-time equivalent jobs are contributed by the CCB, 2.5% of the Canadian labour force

  • Every dollar invested drives $2 of GDP and more than 55 cents of is recouped in taxes from economic activity

  • Therefore the CCB drives $4 of GDP for every net dollar it costs

  • The CCB has generated $27B in private capital investment and $77B in wage growth since its inception

  • The CCB has contributed to 3 years of economic growth, low inflation, and unemployment levels at record 40-year lows

Clearly, the Canada Child Benefit is a Canadian flavoured Basic Income which is as close as it gets to a UBI in the real world. It is a huge success hiding in plain sight. It is universal because all humans go through childhood, it is individual because strictly based on headcount and it is unconditional because you don’t have to do anything special to deserve it, and you can do with it as you please, no questions asked. Furthermore, it is a regular, predictable, cash transfer paid monthly, for which you can sign up before you are even born. It is not means-tested. It is income-tested. Does it deviate in some ways from the ideal, orthodox form of Basic Income? Of course! Where do we find ideal Forms in the real world?

A similar demonstration can be made for Old Age Security. Now, since the facts show the economic impact of Basic Income for ages 0-17 and 65+, why not expand the programs to all those in between? Why not start right away with ages 18-19, who need the money to stay in school or get a good start in life, some other way?

As the incumbent Liberals struggle in the polls, and are headed toward a minority government status in the October 21st elections, according to the latest projections, Basic Income advocates around the world can only look on in dismay at this missed opportunity to benefit from changing the narrative about Basic Income in Canada.


Update October 10th

Liberals know that the Child Benefit is UBI. They won’t admit it.

Ten months before October 21st 2019 election, the National Post published an article with the headline: “Liberals say they are looking at ways to provide guaranteed minimum income to all Canadians.”

Although the nomenclature of Unconditional Basic Income (UBI) is notoriously anarchic, clearly the federal Liberal Party of Canada was considering such a plan. In the article, the Canadian Press reports:

“Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Social Development Minister Jean-Yves Duclos have argued that the Liberal-created Canada Child Benefit, among other measures, amounts to a guaranteed minimum income already.”

Yet not a word about this, 28 days into the campaign, as I have reported above.

During the first English-language debate, on October 7th, Justin Trudeau hammered home more than once that "Nine hundred thousand Canadians have been lifted out of poverty, including 300,000 children." He made an oblique reference to the Canada Child Benefit, which is largely responsible for these numbers.

Unconditional Basic Income was never mentioned. Even if there is no question that UBI helps reduce poverty, this is just not the best argument to support it when powerful economic data is available.

Why the Trudeau Liberals have chosen not to play the UBI card, I couldn’t say. They may come to regret the mistake.

[this text is also published on the site of the Basic Income Earth Network]

Pierre Madden

​​WhatsApp/Cell: +1 514 238-0044

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