Manitoba

MMIWG2S advocates call for universal basic income to be top issue in 2021 federal election

The final report from the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and gender diverse people includes the call to establish a universal basic income in Canada. Here's why some advocates are pushing for it to become a main federal election topic.

Advocates say UBI prevents Indigenous women, girls, gender-diverse people from being in vulnerable situations

Bianca Moar, a support worker at Velma's House, says a universal basic income would help the women who come to the safe space get out of poverty, precarious situations. (Sam Samson/CBC)

The push for a universal basic income is top of mind during this federal election campaign for many people who work with Indigenous women, girls and gender diverse people.

"It would definitely help save a lot of lives," said Bianca Moar.

Moar is from Big Grassy First Nation, Ont., and a support worker at Velma's House. The safe space based in West Broadway helps women and the 2SLGBTQ+ community who are unsheltered or experiencing violence and exploitation.

"I myself was an addict and a sex trade worker, and I was in the low-income range," said Moar.

"If I was to have the peace of mind of having that income — knowing that my rent's going to get paid, my bills are going to get paid, I'm going to have money to get to work, get to my programs, get to school, get my kids to daycare — it would definitely be different."

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UBI would ensure all Canadians have a guaranteed level of income from the federal government. Small communities in Manitoba and Ontario have piloted the system, but Canada has never implemented it. 

The final report from the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and gender diverse people has 231 calls for justice, two of which mention establishing a UBI in Canada.

"We call upon all governments to establish a guaranteed annual livable income for all Canadians, including Indigenous Peoples, to meet all their social and economic needs," the report reads. "This income must take into account diverse needs, realities, and geographic locations."

Isabel Daniels is a program manager for Velma's House, a Winnipeg safe space for women experiencing homelessness or violence. (Sam Samson/CBC)

For Isabel Daniels, a UBI would mean the people who access services at Velma's House would be able to secure safe housing. That would prevent them from being in vulnerable situations.

"If our women can't pay the rent, then they're staying with unsavoury people. They're staying with people that are going to exploit them sexually," said Daniels, a program manager at Velma's House. Daniels is from Sagkeeng First Nation and has long advocated for MMIWG grassroots groups.

"A lot of our women here at Velma's House have been abused the majority of their life. I'd hate to see them be on a good path and then all of a sudden they're forced back into exploitation because welfare cut off their rent or they couldn't get to work all week because they didn't have bus fare to get there. It's little things like that for our people that keep them stuck in poverty," she said.

Diverse opinions on UBI in Canada

Different economists, researchers and politicians have their own takes on a UBI in Canada.

The Liberals have yet to release their platform, but delegates have supported the idea of a UBI in the past.

UBI isn't mentioned in the Conservative platform. Rather there are several mentions of funding programs for low-income Canadians including a 75 per cent tax credit for child care and doubling the Canada Workers Benefit.

The Green Party continues to advocate for UBI, just as they have in the past.

The People's Party of Canada's platform does not mention UBI, instead focusing on reducing the country's deficit to lower taxes for Canadians.

In the NDP's platform, the party uses CERB to show that the federal government is capable of providing a basic income to Canadians who need it.

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Though CERB was a way to help Canadians temporarily, Daniels believes a UBI would need to be more specific if it were to be long-term.

"I really think that it should be based on the individual and not just the universal amount. We know that universal amounts don't work because welfare doesn't work, and it doesn't keep people out of poverty," she said.

"It should be just based on that individual and where they're at."

Diane Redsky agrees.

"I wouldn't say that CERB was the exact answer because it had no long-term [plan]," said Redsky, the executive director of Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre.

Diane Redsky, executive director of Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre, says universal basic income should be a top federal election priority. (Sam Samson/CBC)

"It didn't allow for those conversations on how a guaranteed livable income will help families and communities for the long-term. And how do you roll that out in a very thoughtful, respectful and meaningful way with the community?" she said.

Redsky, who has dedicated much of her life to equality for all Indigenous women, said UBI is a major election issue. It's been two years since it was specifically mentioned in the inquiry's final report, and this is one way Redsky said the federal government can take real action.

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"If we continue to marginalize Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people, then we will continue to have this genocide that is happening within our country," said Redsky.

"We really need all parties in this election and all Canadians to be aware that there are solutions that exist to change things. The experts are in the grassroots community. They're all ready and willing and able to put this into action. We need them to create the system in order to start changing things for the future — so we have a future for our community."

WATCH | Call for a universal basic income grows louder as federal election approaches:

The call for a universal basic income is getting louder as the federal election approaches

2 months ago
2:11
Advocates for missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and gender-diverse people are behind the push. They say a more affordable system could help save lives. 2:11

This story is the result of a CBC Manitoba engagement journalism project. We listened to BIPOC voters in Manitoba about their views on the 2021 federal election and then pursued stories that mattered the most.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sam Samson

Journalist

Sam Samson is a multimedia journalist who has worked for CBC in Manitoba and Ontario as a reporter and associate producer. Before working for CBC, she studied journalism and communications in Winnipeg. You can get in touch on Twitter @CBCSamSamson or email samantha.samson@cbc.ca.

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