Nfld. & Labrador

Federal NDP eye basic income pilot in N.L., but doubts linger about willpower to create one

Jagmeet Singh is now backing a basic income experiment in Newfoundland and Labrador, but one local anti-poverty worker says he harbours doubt it'll happen any time soon.

Party leader Jagmeet Singh says experiment could boost national momentum

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh thinks data from a basic income pilot in Newfoundland and Labrador could help fuel a national program. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

The leader of the federal NDP is backing a basic income experiment in Newfoundland and Labrador, but one local anti-poverty worker says he harbours doubt it'll happen any time soon.

Jagmeet Singh met with over a dozen local community leaders Friday in a virtual town hall, just days after the party's provincial counterpart raised a motion in the House of Assembly to explore a basic income pilot program.

That motion passed Oct. 28, but isn't binding. The House has yet to strike a research committee composed of MHAs from all parties. 

Pulling one together would take both co-operation and initiative from House leaders — something advocate Dan Meades thinks isn't about to happen any time soon.

"It's a political moment right now, I think, where politicians realize that being against the idea of a ... guaranteed annual income wouldn't be very popular," Meades said.

He suggested the motion is lip service: something the population wants to hear but politicians have no desire to act on.

Anti-poverty advocate Dan Meades says while he's all for a basic income experiment, he doesn't think N.L. has the political willpower to put one into motion. (Paula Gale/CBC)

Meades, a supporter of the benefit who's served as a member of the Basic Income Canada Network, said past policy decisions by the reigning provincial Liberals raise red flags.

By adopting a non-binding motion, "they can be seen as progressive … without actually having to do anything," he said.

"What I don't see is a kind of political will to make decisions beyond electoral, budgetary cycles. And that's what it takes. It takes a desire to say, 'Hey, this is a good idea, even if I'm not the one who gets to implement it.'"

Help from Ottawa?

On a national scale, politicians in Ottawa are noticing public interest piqued by the idea. The NDP tested the waters in N.L. during their town hall last week.

St. John's East MP Jack Harris says a Newfoundland and Labrador-led pilot, if it gains traction, could get a leg up with federal funding.

"The federal system has to be a part of it," Harris said. "That's where the money is."

Harris says members of his riding, some of whom attended Friday's town hall, are skeptical about whether a basic income can co-exist with current social securities, such as child care or disability supports.

Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, centre bottom, and St. John's East MP Jack Harris, top left, asked N.L. organizations Friday about their thoughts on a basic income. (Office of Jack Harris)

Still, there's burgeoning curiosity, he said.

"I think the need is out there. People are crying out for a just economic system. It's an idea which is now very much under the microscope."

A local pilot could also fuel interest in a Canada-wide experiment, Singh said.

The NDP already has a private member's bill, M-64, before Parliament, proposing a guaranteed income benefit to replace the Canada Emergency Response Benefit in a more permanent way. Data from regional experiments, Singh suggested, could supplement a national undertaking.

"Doing the pilot project is a way to get the evidence, to make the case better," Singh said.

"We could work with what happens in Newfoundland and Labrador, use that evidence, compare that with what it's like in … other urban centres, other rural communities, the North — and then have a real picture of what it would take to bring about real support."

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