Nfld. & Labrador

N.L. takes first step toward basic income as NDP motion passes in legislature

Politicians did an unusual thing last week: they unanimously agreed to look at giving away free cash to eligible Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

House committee would explore eligibility, amounts and timeline for pilot project

Ontario and Manitoba have led experiments that provided a basic income to recipients. Could Newfoundland and Labrador be next? (Graeme Roy/The Canadian Press)

It sounds like fiction, at first blush: hundreds of dollars appearing in your bank account every month, for no reason other than being alive.

However, Newfoundland and Labrador is taking the first step toward making a guaranteed basic income a reality.

"A Tory senator wrote a book on why we should do this as a country," Labrador West MHA Jordan Brown said on the assembly floor last Wednesday, in reference to basic income advocate Hugh Segal.

"This crosses party lines, corporate lines.… This is something that's been talked about since the '70s."

Brown tabled the private member's motion calling for the province to examine what a basic income might look like here, including who would receive it and how much.

To his surprise, the motion was a resounding success, with all parties agreeing to weigh the costs and benefits of running a pilot program.

Jordan Brown, the New Democratic MHA for Labrador West, proposed the committee. It's now up to the Liberals to strike it. (CBC)

Liberal Gerry Byrne stepped in to point out the overwhelming nature of the NDP-led proposal.

"It's a complex issue," Bryne said in response to the motion.

"It's so complex that no known jurisdiction in the world has established a true universal guaranteed income benefit.… It's important for us to break through that complication."

Education, healthy eating

Basic income can take various forms, but the underlying principle remains the same: that each resident of a specific jurisdiction unconditionally receives a minimum amount of money each year to live on.

Some models ensure every person, no matter their financial standing, receives the benefit. Those who earn more than the threshold pay it back in addition to their usual taxes.

Other models, like one piloted in Ontario in 2017, issue the benefit only to those with low income. But unlike most social assistance programs, the basic income benefit tops up earnings, rather than disappearing dollar for dollar once the recipient begins making money.

Brown pointed to the reported success of Ontario's pilot, cut short by a change of government in 2018, as motivating his party's motion.

"People went back to school, people went and found better employment. It gave a lot of people the confidence that they needed to move forward in their lives," he said.

"It was reaching [the] goals that it intended to reach."

Advocates say a basic income benefit, while appearing costly, can save money down the line as the benefit makes other social assistance programs redundant.

Some argue that basic income could also alleviate indirect costs of poverty, such as higher health-care spending related to unhealthy diets and stress.

The motion is not binding, and it's now in the hands of the governing Liberals to strike the committee.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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