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by Stephanie Flegel

What if the government guaranteed your wages no matter what?

This is a concept that has been hotly debated for decades and scholars and politicians are still at odds on whether it is a viable solution to poverty or just another way to keep poor people poor.

The federal Green Party has put the theory into its platform for the federal election. 

The system aims “to provide a real economic floor below which people are not suppose to fall,” said Jim Mulvale, University of Regina head of justice studies and a long time supporter of the concept.

(Photo- Jim Mulvale)

Guaranteed annual income would provide enough money to people to live off and would be available to everyone unconditionally, he said. Although Mulvale is not familiar with the details of how the Green Party intends to implement the system, he said he’s happy to see the idea being brought in the public forum. 

He says in principal this theory could be the answer to end poverty in Canada. But he says there are also many practical reasons for implementing a guaranteed income system that go beyond the moral and ethical reasons behind eliminating poverty.

Adopting the guaranteed income philosophy would require an entirely new way of looking at the economy, Mulvale said. He added there is research to show that many other hot button socio-economic factors, such as health, crime, education and the environment can be improved when poverty is reduced or eliminated.

“With all the daunting environmental problems we are dealing with I just don’t think that we can be talking about open-ended, indiscriminant growth anymore,” said Mulvale.

But, Garson Hunter, a U of R social work professor, believes guaranteed income does not really provide a solution to poverty. He argues that in order to provide a guaranteed income, the government has to peg a level at which all people must meet. The government doesn’t want to appear to be promoting laziness and not working so the mark if often pegged below the minimum wage, which is a concern for Hunter. This doesn’t raise low-income people above the poverty line; it simply makes sure they don’t fall below it, he said. There are also concerns around what other services would be lost in place of this program. Many plans Hunter has looked at use guaranteed income as a substitute for other social programs.

“What’s its cost?” asked Hunter. “That’s where we get concerned that we’ll lose other social programs that have been hard fought for.”Mulvale said he believes that guaranteed income should supplement other services not replace them.

So far the Green Party’s plan doesn’t outline whether they will make cuts to other programs or how they’ll fund the new initiative.

In any case, it’s a long shot the Green party will be in a position to have any influence on the government’s poverty initiatives, said Jeremy Rayner, U of R political science department head.  Hunter agrees it will never happen in the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, Mulvale hopes that one day it may be a reality.

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