The right thing to do?

John Ibbitson, who is described as “a writer-at-large” for the Globe and Mail (I think that means senior columnist who is given carte balance on topics) and David Parkinson, who is the Good Grey Globe‘s economics columnist have, in an opinion piece, opened the pandora’s box of a universal basic income.

Bravo!

And medals for journalistic bravery all ’round, including to those who read their brief essay all the way to the end … and I’m guessing that is a small number.

I think that some sort of a universal basic income project might be the kind of Big Idea that I suspect the Conservative Party of Canada needs to win back the support of those all-important suburban voters.

Screen Shot 2020-05-16 at 07.40.09But, first, to be a bit contrary: John Diefenbaker did it, he swept the country, in a big way, in 1958, using essentially tactical issues, there were no big ideas, at all; and Brian Mulroney did it, again, in 1984, winning, largely, because Canadians were just sick of Pierre Trudeau who harperwas becoming increasingly tiresome … the bloom was off the rose, so to say. The same might be said for Stephen Harper‘s victories in 2006, 2008 and 2011. We can quite fairly say that the Chrétien-Martin Liberals defeated themselves when the stench of their corruption became too much even for the Liberal Party faithful. That leads to an argument that the Conservatives just need to wait until, say, 2024 or ’25 when the Trudeau Liberals will have worn out their welcome, again, because Justin Trudeau really is a second-rate human being and, at best, a third-rate political leader. But that argument says that the Liberals are, indeed, the “natural governing party,” and the Conservatives are only Snoopy-penalty-boxcalled in when the Grits need a few years in the sin-bin to recover their charisma. But I, for one, do not believe that ~ waiting for Liberal corruption and ineptitude to become so bad that even those few Canadians (mostly in Toronto and Montréal) who still read the Star and watch CBC TV notice ~ is the correct strategic course for a political party.

Now, I said, in the Big Idea link, above, that “The big difference, it seems to me, between Conservative and Liberal social spending and tax issues is that the Liberals, being essentially progressive, want to give everyone everything they need but, since they will not tolerate “means testing” they end up giving “entitlements” or tax breaks to those who don’t need them which makes the programmes inefficient and too costly. The Conservatives, on the other hand, are happy to use the tax system as a kind of invisible “means test” and, thereby, to give “boutique tax cuts” that target specific groups ~ parents of school-age children, for example. This philosophical divide means that the CPC has an advantage in explaining to suburbanites how it will, simultaneously, “contain” social spending and give working/middle-class families tax breaks. The suburbanites understand basic budgeting, they are good household managers themselves and they know that balanced budgets are necessary, even as they, personally, want tax breaks.

All the polling I have seen says that most Canadians most often trust Conservatives to be good money managers. Maybe it’s time to offer Canadians something other than just fiscal policy janitorial services ~ the thankless task of cleaning up after the Liberals.

Screen Shot 2020-05-11 at 14.14.16O-Toole-Erin-Min.-Jan-23-2015-picI think that Conservative leaders ~ at both the federal and provincial levels ~ need to meld the big ideas of Hayek and Friedman (pictured below), about which few voters know and even fewer care, by the way, with the good common-sense* of most suburban Canadians and propose ways to make the liberal notion of a universal basic income work FOR most Canadians. The key notion, going back to the friedman-and-hayek copyfriedman-and-hayekdead, white, male and very conservative theorists, is that poverty is inefficient because it is a major drain on our societies, but high taxes and lavish social spending do not work. The core notion of a reasoned, Conservative policy ought to be that work, any work, including, perhaps especially including low paid, temporary (seasonal) work is “good” and state-supported idleness is dangerous.

What’s needed is a coordinated, national (federal-provincial) common-sense* approach that says that everyone who works, especially at low paid, part-time, temporary jobs ALWAYS ends up being better off (measured in after-tax dollars) than those who live on the dole.

The notion has, as Messers Ibbitson and Parkinson point out, been tried in Ontario. Premier Doug Ford, mistakenly, in my opinion, cancelled the trial, but some analysts suggest that the (incomplete) results seemed promising.

I think the 2017/18 Ontario trial was flawed, from the start, because it failed to guarantee that work was ALWAYS beneficial. That, to me, must be the key. People should be encouraged to work, especially at low paid, temporary/seasonal and part-time jobs and they should be secure in the knowledge that, at the end of the day, they will be measurably better off than those who stayed home and collected social assistance.

It, a sensible, workable, Conservative universal basic income, is neither sexy nor simple. But, it is good public policy and it should have broad public and political appeal: on the left, on the right, and, above all, in the all-important political centre, even in Québec which sometimes opposes national initiatives on principle. A well-designed plan, built around the idea of a negative income tax, rather than just a universal basic income, which the British Columbia government is exploring right now, should be cost-effective; it might even cost little or nothing more than the current hodge-podge of local, provincial and national programmes, including EI and so on. But it must have a few principles:

  • It must be truly universal ~ accessible to ALL adult Canadians and residents of Canada. That’s one of the reasons a system that uses the income tax is a good idea;
  • It must be. basic ~ not overly generous just enough to keep a person (poorly, but adequately) housed and fed; and
  • It MUST ensure that work is always rewarded. Those who take tough, dirty, low paid, temporary jobs must always be measurably better off than those who sit at home and collect social assistance.

Waiting for Justin Trudeau to become so dreadfully, rancidly bad that Canadians, even ThrowTheRascalsOutRosemary Barton, cannot wait to “throw the rascals out” is not, in my opinion, a sound or even a sane political strategy for the Conservative Party of Canada. The Conservatives need to be FOR something, preferably something big that makes Canada better for most of us. The idea of a universal basic income, managed through a negative income tax, that guarantees that honest work is always rewarded over sloth, might be the key.

I know this issue is both complicated and lacking in the pizzazz that some political tacticians think is obligatory … but sexless as it may be, it might be the right thing to do for Canadians. At the very least it is worth discussing.

—–

* That’s a good thing amongst Conservatives

One thought on “The right thing to do?

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