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Op-ed: Making this a ‘have’ province

May 17, 2016 — 

The following is an op-ed written by Lorna Turnbull, a professor in the Faculty of Law. It was originally published in the Winnipeg Free Press on May 17, 2016


‘We are a ‘have’ province,” Brian Pallister proclaimed in his victory speech April 19, “(and) we will build a better future for all Manitobans.”

On Monday, the premier set the tone for the future of Manitoba with his throne speech mapping out the new government’s agenda.

A few weeks from now, the Conservatives’ first budget will let us see if they will put our money where their mouth is.

As a proud taxpayer, I want to see our money devoted to ensuring every Manitoban will indeed have a better future — and I want that future to come soon. Manitobans living in poverty are unable to enjoy the benefits of being citizens of a “have” province in a rich western democracy. And they are also not able to enjoy many of their other human rights that we understand as being foundational to human dignity.

This spring, the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights again chastised Canada for its ongoing failure to implement, in legislation and policy, the commitment it made by signing the convention to ensure Canadians enjoy an adequate standard of living. A stable and adequate income are critical for people to be full members of society.

Last weekend, Winnipeg played host to the North American Basic Income Guarantee Congress. More than 140 people from around the world gathered to figure out how to build a better future for everyone.

Activists, politicians, persons who have experienced poverty and privilege asked the question: how can we create a society based on an ethic of sharing, caring and reciprocity, ideas that are foundational to the Indigenous people on whose lands we are gathered?

The Progressive Conservatives have indicated an interest in investigating basic income as a means of addressing poverty in Manitoba, but nothing more specific was shared as part of their pre-election platform.

The Green Party of Manitoba was the only party with a proposal for basic income that had been fully costed out. According to the Greens, the proposal would lead to an 18 per cent reduction in welfare caseloads and a 25 per cent increase in the incomes of those remaining on welfare while maintaining other important programs for reducing poverty in the province.

The Liberals announced they would pilot a minimum income program in a Manitoba community, inspired by the positive results from the Manitoba “Mincome” experiment. The NDP took the position that income security is key to eliminating poverty and increasing social inclusion, and indicated it would use a variety of programs to “build towards a basic income.”

There is a reason all four major Manitoba parties had something to say about this.

If you look at Google trends for “basic income,” you will find interest has been building steadily for the past few years and has skyrocketed in the past six months [Here’s a U of M prof on the popular podcast Freakonomics talking about it]. Manitobans are looking for a way to build a fairer and more just society for all. We are appalled at the rates and depth of poverty, the number of children in care, the number of youth who find themselves entangled in the criminal justice system, and the number of our neighbours who suffer ill health. We are outraged these horrors are felt more acutely by Indigenous people, persons with disabilities, women, the gender-queer, and others who are already vulnerable and marginalized.

The past decade has seen an increasing gap, indeed a chasm, between those income earners in the top 20 per cent of the population and those in the bottom 20 per cent. The OECD recently reported the top 10 per cent of earners earn four times more than the median earners (not three times, as previously thought).

When those who live in poverty are unable to flourish, the results are dire for all Manitobans. A basic income would ensure dignity, improve health and education outcomes, and avoid the “welfare wall” that makes it difficult to participate fully in society. It would benefit the economy, which is why the concept enjoys support across the political spectrum.

We must resist the kinds of austerity measures that hurt the most vulnerable among us and widen the gap between rich and poor. We need to work together to build a society that allows all to flourish.

Pallister tells us he and the members of his government got into public life to make things better for others, to leave a legacy we can all be proud of, and to create a “Manitoba miracle.” Now is the time.


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