Guaranteed Minimum Annual Income in Alberta?

The Mayors of Edmonton and Calgary are talking about it (read). Many agree with them and I am one; it’s worth a good look. In fact, I suggest that a guaranteed annual income be considered as a foundational strategy to lift hundreds of thousands of people out of poverty. Whether or not it will work depends on a myriad of factors that I do hope we will aptly include in a comprehensive approach to poverty elimination.

I won’t pretend that I know what the answers are for what ails us. I have opinions, of course, some of which are based on experience and understanding of poverty’s causes and effects, but I do have a litany of questions – perhaps better called wicked questions — that I suggest our government, community, and business leaders should consider when contemplating how to end poverty or how a GAI might markedly improve things throughout our province.

How will the “minimum” be determined and by whom? Our tendency nation-wide up until now has been to set poverty lines (e.g. LICO) that many agree sets its low income lines far lower than reality would dictate. This means we have many who are actually living in poverty that we do not recognize to be poor.A low cut off keeps the numbers we report lower than they actually are. A Guaranteed Annual Income may work if minimum income is actually sufficient income to live a life.

What other changes are required that together with a GAI will leverage our collective ability to end poverty? How would the housing market and its economic impact on people be factored into a GAI? For example, as mentioned in my recent posting, The Twist on the Minimum Wage Debatethe cost of rental accommodations rose on average by 75% between 2000 and 2010. How would we adjust the GAI to reflect that huge increase in housing costs?

What is the private sector’s role and responsibility in poverty elimination? It is difficult for me to fathom anyone truly believing that our current economy is working for the majority of citizens. The rising income gap between the wealthy and everybody else is one indicator of that. If we keep the minimum wage where it is, keep corporate taxes as low as they are, and continue to believe that oil royalties of ten cents on the dollar (it was 26 cents under Peter Lougheed) can be rationalized as good for the average Albertan, I fear that a GAI will to some degree become a subsidy for big business.

How do we address the non-monetary aspects of poverty?. Poverty is about deprivation of opportunity, of equal treatment under the law, of access to needed services, and the list goes on. Racism contributes to poverty. Policies and systems that are engineered to be demoralizing, complex, and substandard in the maximum help they can provide will continue to work against poverty reduction, even with a GAI and a better minimum wage. How do we address those elements of poverty, along with the financial factors?

These are but a few of the difficult questions we face. Today more than ever, with two of the most progressive Mayors in the country hard at work at poverty reduction and now the election of a new government that appears to be equally progressive and focused on people first, I am encouraged that these questions will not only get asked but that significant efforts will be taken to answer them.

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