Basic Income in Canada

Canada has far more experience with basic income than many realize.

  • In the 1960s, Canada introduced Old Age Security (OAS) and the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS), providing income guarantees for Canadian seniors, regardless of current or past work status. This reduced poverty and insecurity among seniors dramatically. 
  • In the 1990s, a new national child benefit system was set up by federal, provincial and territorial governments and it has grown over time. Child benefits are a partial basic income proven to help parents meet the needs of raising children under 18 and maintain employment. For over two decades it has lifted families out of poverty and enabled possibilities for millions of Canadians.
  • Earlier, in the 1970s, basic income was recommended by a federal government commission on poverty and one on the status of women for other groups of people. That idea was tested through a pilot study known as ‘Mincome’ over a period of four years by the Governments of Canada and Manitoba. There were similar pilots in the United States too. The Mincome results have only recently been unearthed and analyzed to show positive results. 

A vast improvement over social assistance.

Currently, adults aged 18-64 in Canada, those who are key to our prosperity, still have too little support, especially single people. In today’s economy, a job, a good working history and even a good education do not necessarily offer security.

For this group of people, the last and sometimes only resort is social assistance, commonly referred to as welfare. Welfare is the opposite of basic income. Since the 1970s, the 13 different welfare regimes across Canada have consistently provided far too little income, too late, with too many rules. They trap people in financial, psychological and physical crisis.

Low-waged, precarious workers, on the other hand, get almost no financial support in their efforts to make ends meet so they too suffer from anxiety, hardship and lack of options. A basic income, in comparison, is a vast improvement for everyone as it encompasses all Canadians.

In the past few years, there have been many new developments in the basic income movement in Canada.

  • In 2017, the Government of Ontario rolled out a basic income pilot to 4,000 recipients aged 18-64. The program ended prematurely in 2019 after a political change. Nevertheless, a great deal was learned, including design and administration lessons and feedback from recipients on the difference a basic income made to their lives. Read the report here.
  • In 2019 the inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls called for a basic income to help prevent the worst impacts of systemic racism, sexism and colonialism. 
  • All political parties in Prince Edward Island favour a basic income and since 2020 have requested the federal government work with them to implement it, starting in their province. 
  • In 2020, the pandemic temporarily drove a range of government emergency cash benefits. These programs provided many more learnings.
  • Support for basic income continues to grow among the public. Ideas and recommendations for it show up in diverse studies on food security, public health, the future of work, technological disruption, climate change, and more. And, political champions are coming forward, cooperation across allies and sectors is building and new and expanded groups are forming and becoming more active.

BICN has significantly contributed to the work in Canada. In recent years, our efforts have included:

  • Educating the media, the public and government officials to understand and accept that seniors and children’s benefits are forms of basic income and, as a country, we have long-standing experience in this area.
  • Publishing Signposts to Success, a report that bought forward the experiences of Ontario pilot recipients, and COVID Stories that gave voice to Canadians who did and didn’t qualify for pandemic-related cash benefits. 
  • Hosting International (Montreal, 2014) and North American (Winnipeg, 2016; Hamilton, 2018) Congresses that helped build a wide, multi-sectoral movement here.
  • Working to support politicians and public servants in their initiatives, including throughout the Ontario pilot process and federally-focused endeavours. 

Publishing Basic Income: Some Policy Options for Canada in January 2020,  which models three options for designing—and funding—a basic income as examples to spur government action. As the most comprehensive work of its kind, it is cited widely, including by the Parliamentary Budget Office. Using statistical simulation like this is a highly effective way to test the impacts of basic income design.