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Alberta could implement guaranteed basic income with no major new funding needed: report

Alberta could reduce poverty and introduce a guaranteed basic income with virtually no new funding by simply tweaking how it issues tax credits, according to a new report.

Basic income isn't a new idea — it's been tested in Canada as early as the 1970s

A report from the University of Calgary says Alberta could bring in a basic income program by tweaking its tax system. (The Canadian Press/Graeme Roy)

Alberta could reduce poverty and introduce a guaranteed basic income with virtually no new funding by simply tweaking how it issues tax credits, according to a new report.

"Converting just a few non-refundable tax credits into refundable ones can produce a guaranteed annual income of over $6,000 for a single-adult family and over $9,000 for a two-adult family, with no significant new funding required," the report from Wayne Simpson and Harvey Stevens at the University of Calgary's School of Public Policy reads. 

"This would improve supports for 37 per cent of Alberta families, with the largest gains properly concentrated among the poorest households, and would reduce the rate and depth of poverty by 25 per cent."

A basic income isn't a new idea — it's been tested in small pilot projects in Canada dating back to the 1970s, but critics have often worried costs to implement and run such a program would be prohibitive. 

But this report's authors say they've found a way around that.

The report says Alberta's poverty rate has not fallen in line with its economic growth, and that its poverty rate has largely stabilized.

But, the authors write, Alberta's growth has resulted in a generous system of non-refundable personal tax credits that could be reformed to create a basic income program.

By eliminating six non-refundable tax credits including the basic income tax credit and credits for pension income and student loans, the province would have a total of $5.4 billion to finance a guaranteed basic income, the report found.

That could pay for a guaranteed annual income of $6,389 for a single-adult family, and $9,035 for a two-adult family. It said 37 per cent of families would benefit from the guaranteed income, with the highest gains among lowest-income Albertans.

Federal collaboration would make big difference

Where the province would see an even more significant impact would be if it could persuade the federal government to combine a similar federal approach, by eliminating the federal GST credit.

That would create a total budget of $11.4 billion — $13,674 for a single-adult family and $19,338 for a two-adult family.

That would see Alberta's poverty rate drop by 44 per cent, and be completely eliminated for couples. 

Poverty reduction isn't the only benefit, the authors said, although it's the main one they looked at.

"A [guaranteed basic income] is seen as an important component of policy to address the rapid advance of robotics, artificial intelligence and other technologies … which may create widespread job destruction, unemployment and hardship within a short timeframe," the report reads.

It doesn't appear likely a basic income pilot projects is in the cards for Alberta anytime soon. During the recent provincial election, the only party that pledged to test the initiative in its platform were the Alberta Liberals, who failed to gain a seat.

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