Canadian Political Primer on
Guaranteed Livable Income / Basic Income

by Cynthia A. L'Hirondelle - Sept. 2010

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Key Resources: Canada, World

Names: Guaranteed Livable Income, Basic Income Grant and Citizen's Dividend, are all popular names for what was commonly known as Guaranteed Annual Income in the 1960s-80s. (See more )

History: In the 1960's it was advocated by everyone from Nixon to Martin Luther King Jr., Milton Friedman, technologists like Robert Theobald and Buckminster Fuller, and in Canada, Pierre Berton, the Royal Commission on the Status of Women and others. (See Links )

Today: In the last 10 years there has been a revival of interest around the world. The Basic Income Earth Network has affiliate groups in 20 countries including Canada and the United States. Global Basic Income is another group that has documented world interest in the concept. (More News)

Guaranteed Livable Income was ranked number one as having the biggest impact to permanently reduce poverty in Canada in a 2006 National Council on Welfare questionnaire with 5000+ particpants (pg. 12 & 28 report by MiroMetrica).

Politics: Guaranteed income is neither a 'left' nor 'right' political position, just like growing a garden is neither a 'left' nor 'right' issue. There are supporters and detractors on all sides of political spectrum.

Milton Friedman advocated a Negative Income Tax (as did Juliet Rhys-Williams in 1930s UK).

Canadian conservative Senator Hugh Segal has been writing and speaking in favour of basic income for many years, especially to address rural poverty.

In December 2000, Canadian conservatives denounced guaranteed annual income as "stealth socialism" after it was proposed by then Prime Minister Jean Chretien (Liberal Party). However, they too once had it in their election platform (1993 Reporm Party). This was probably there due to the history of Bible Bill Aberhart's popular social dividend proposal in 1930s Alberta.

"Aberhart modified and popularized this doctrine into a proposal that each citizen be given a $25-a-month "basic dividend" to purchase necessities. Aberhart built a grass-roots movement, the Alberta Social Credit League, to promote his ideas."

It's also been proposed at various times by the NDP (The Smug Minority 1968, Norm Levi, Lower Island News, June 2000).

Much more history available on the Canadian Social Research site.

Currently (since the mid 2000s) faith group Citizens for Public Justice (Toronto) has been active in promoting Guaranteed Livable Income as has been grassroots group Citizen's Income (Toronto) and Canada Without Poverty (Ottawa).

There is a Canadian group called Basic Income Canada Network.

The Fraser Institute is against guaranteed annual income because they feel it would create a disincentive to work (Jason Clemens, Monday Magazine, March 25, 2004). Of course we need to keep in mind that the Fraser Institute is an official charity registered with Revenue Canada and relies on donations.

Right/Left Perspectives on Work: In the political right corner we have the view that wealth is created by capital and that people should compete for jobs and not be given income disconnected from work.

In the political left corner we have the view that wealth is created by working class labour and that people should have living wage jobs and not be given income disconnected from work (except for short term charity/welfare).

Both the right and the left do not view unpaid care as a form of productive work. Nor are other kinds of non-standard, non-market but beneficial activities counted as economically productive such as volunteering or the work that nature does. These activities are not included in the GDP (Marilyn Waring) and the GDP is currently how the economic health of a country is measured.

Since the mid-1980s labour unions in english Canada have not advocated for GAI; they focus on living wage campaigns (benefiting only people with paid jobs) or food bank drives.

However, many individual union people, feminists, greens and technologists support a universal guaranteed income. There have been some GAI resolutions at federal and provincial NDP conventions (BC, Alberta, & federally in 2006).

Green view: Many green/environmental people support guaranteed income as it takes pressure off consumption and economic growth which drives much environmental harm, while also improving people's health. The Green Party in Canada has advocated guaranteed income (on and off) since the mid 1990s.

Business: A business case could be made for a guaranteed income simply because there would be money immediately injected into the local economy. It would be a 'stimulus' initiative, but not to banks or auto companies, but directly to 'we the people.' The fear that people are inherently lazy and would stop working (as currently defined) has been proven false by pilot projects.

Health: The strongest cost/benefit case for a guaranteed income can be made from a health perspective. Guaranteed Livable Income is essentially a health initiative. Income is known to be a key determinant of health; and poverty (and stress from it) as a key destroyer of health. In addition, having people with work/life flexibility means there would be more time to help family, friends, neighbors and community. All this would reduce the strain on institutional systems. Any problems that may arise from a guaranteed income would be much less costly to address than trying to fix long-term negative health and social impacts of having people--including children--living in situations of high stress, low nutrition and low resources due to poverty.


Title Author About
Economic Security in the Twenty-First Century
– Guaranteed Annual Income (GAI) An ecological, democratic, justice and food security imperative
Richard Pereira, 2009

Highly readable award-winning paper which covers main issues in depth.

PDF download (30 pages)

La sécurité économique au XXIe siècle - Revenu annuel garanti (RAG) / allocation universelle Richard Pereira 2009

L'impératif écologique, démocratique, de la justice et de la sécurité alimentaire Dividendes positifs et négatifs

PDF (30 pages)

THE TOWN WITH NO POVERTY: A history of the North American Guaranteed Annual Income Social Experiments Dr. Evelyn L. Forget, 2008

Manitoba Mincome Pilot Project (1974-79) DRAFT report.
Looks at the outcome of this unique-in-the-world pilot project where an entire town received a guaranteed income. What happened over the long-term with these families? How were health and education affected?
She examines the outcomes which have never previously been analysed. Funded by the Canadian Institute for Health Research.

Guaranteed Annual Income why Milton Friedman and Bob Standfield were Right (downloadable PDF-6 pages) Sen. Hugh Segal
Policy Options,
April 2008
"The mechanics of a GAI administered through a negative income tax need not be rocket science. We currently have the needed system in place — it
could, like the GST tax credit, be automatic upon filing your tax return."
Guaranteed Annual Income: Has Its Time Come? Senate Subcommittee on Cities, June 2008 Transcript of subcommittee (with 80 witnesses; 60 organizations).
Towards a Guaranteed Livable Income Citizens For Public Justice, 2008 Excellent position paper and backgrounder.
Women's Economic Justice Report on Guaranteed Livable Income

Women's Livable Income Working Group

Project Coordinator: Cynthia L'Hirondelle


Voices from the grassroots: a series of interviews with diverse women in Victoria BC on the benefits of a guaranteed income. Project funded by Status of Women Canada.
From Welfare to Work in Ontario: Still the road Less Travelled

TD Bank Economists:

Don Drummond, Gillian Manning


Much of the 48 page report describes how welfare has a high marginal effective tax rate -- when people earn income most of it is deducted. They end up losing so many benefits when they leave welfare altogether they end up poorer. Further analysis of their report here.
A Guaranteed Annual Income? From Mincome to the Millenium.

Derek Hum, Wayne Simpson


The purpose of this experiment was to determine whether a guaranteed, unconditional annual income actually caused disincentive to work for the recipients, and how great such a disincentive would be. (wiki)
Basic Income Earth Network Canada Jim Mulvale (and others) Canadian Affiliate of the Basic Income Earth Network.
Basic Income: Economic Security for All Canadians Sally Lerner, Charles Clark, and Robert Needham, 1999

A book examining the pros and cons of a basic income policy: "how it might be funded and delivered, how it might increase jobs or change lifestyles and the work ethic."

Canadian Social Research Links Gilles Séguin Huge list of resources on guaranteed income in Canada.
LIFE Links page Overview of links and news


Name Country
Namibian Basic Income
pilot project
Namibia, 2009 Many positive outcomes from the 2 year privately funded pilot project at a Namibian village.
Bolsa Familia Brasil Similar to the original Canadian Family Allowance, but conceived as a Basic Income.
Alaska Permanent Fund U.S.A. A small unconditional basic income is paid to (almost) all Alaskan citizens from oil revenue since 1980's.
US Basic Income Guarantee Network U.S.A. Over 200 papers on all topics related to guaranteed/basic income. Yearly Congress.
Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN) World Affiliate groups from 17 countries belong to this network. Publishes detailed updates on with new developments, events and publications related to basic income world wide.

Marshall Brain

Dr. James Hughes

U.S.A Technology perspective on why a Basic Income is needed.
Dr. Richard Cook U.S.A. Monetary reform perspective on why a Basic Income is best solution to otherwise unsolvable economic problems. Richard Cook was for 21 years with the U.S. Treasury Department.

SocioEconomic Democracy Platform

Robley E. George


A Democratic Socioeconomic Platform
in search of a Democratic Political Party by Robley E. George.

A fantastic resource fully detailing all the benefits that would arise from a basic income.

See also the LIFE links page.

Last updated in 2011.