Thunder Bay

New book makes case for Canadian basic income program

In her new book, a Manitoba economist argues that a nation-wide basic income program could improve the lives of many Canadians.
Evelyn L. Forget is the author of Basic Income For Canadians: The Path to a Healthier, Wealthier Society for All, which will be available Oct. 30. She is a health economist at the University of Manitoba and a contributor with, based at the University of Winnipeg. (Submitted by Evidence Network)

Ontario's short-lived experiment may have met its end, but the author of a new book on basic income says it hasn't shaken her confidence that the program will one day catch on, on a larger scale. 

Evelyn Forget, an economist at the University of Manitoba, said the cancellation of basic income in Ontario was a disappointment that sparked outrage among researchers around the world. But it may also have a silver lining.

"I think the cancellation itself probably introduced the idea of basic income to more people than knew about it before it began," she said. 

"I'm wondering if maybe now this is opening the door for a broader public conversation about basic income and the need for a basic income in Canada."

Forget's new book, Basic Income for Canadians: The key to a healthier, happier, more secure life for all, makes a case for just that, arguing that in the face of an increasingly insecure job market, Canada's current social programs are failing, and that basic income could improve the lives of many. 

This man is one of the people featured by Jessie Golem's Humans of Basic Income project, a photo project meant to capture the impact of the program cancellation, which visited Thunder Bay this fall. (Humans of Basic Income/Facebook)

Forget is a health economist, and her interest in basic income, which she has been studying for more than a decade, was originally sparked by what she saw first-hand, she said. 

"I actually have my office in the health sciences centre in Winnipeg, which is right in downtown Winnipeg, and it's a fairly challenged part of the city." 

"You don't really have to spend a lot of time walking through the halls of an urban hospital to realize that a lot of your health care dollars are going to treat the consequences of poverty."

That's what prompted her to start digging up data from a 1970s experiment with basic income in Manitoba, known as "mincome." 

The new book, which explores how a basic income in Canada might work, also addresses what Forget says are myths about the program. 

The new book makes an argument for a Canadian basic income program. (James Lorimer & Company Ltd., Publishers )

One of the greatest misconceptions, is that it's unaffordable, Forget said, arguing that reallocating funds from other social support programs would make the program achievable. 

Another, she said, is that it's a disincentive for people to work. 

"There's actually very little empirical evidence to support that," she said. 

"When we actually look at the empirical evidence we find that if people are given an unconditional basic income they don't work less. In some cases they actually work more or they find themselves in better jobs over time." 

During the mincome experiment, only two groups were found to be working less, she said: mothers who took time off after giving birth, and young men who chose to go back to school.

Despite the decision made in Ontario, Forget said countries around the world are experimenting with basic income, and she does believe the idea will eventually gain a foothold in Canada.

"It's always hard for any society, I think to make big changes ... but I think there are several factors pushing us in this direction."