Nunavut MLA presses government on idea of guaranteed basic income
“This gives me the impression that this is a dead idea”
Echoing the recommendations of a 2013 report that suggests Nunavut should implement a basic income program, one Nunavut MLA is pressing the government to follow through on that idea.
In a written question tabled last fall, Arviat North-Whale Cove MLA John Main asked Family Services Minister Elisapee Sheutiapik to explain how the department has considered the concept of guaranteed basic income in Nunavut as part of its reform of the territory’s income assistance program.
Guaranteed basic income is a program that involves regular payments from the government to citizens that ensures a minimum income, regardless of employment status.
In 2013, the Caledon Institute of Social Policy was commissioned to examine Nunavut’s safety net.
“The shift from Income Assistance to a Basic Income was a long-term reform suggested in the Caledon Report,” Sheutiapik’s said in her written response to Main.
But the department isn’t there yet.
“The comprehensive analysis required to explore the feasibility of such a program in Nunavut has not yet taken place, primarily because the department has been focused on implementing reforms stemming from the 2015 community consultations,” her reply states.
On Tuesday, Feb. 25, Main pressed the minister during question period on her department’s plans to implement a basic income program.
The department began a review of Nunavut’s income assistance program in 2015, which included community consultations.
“It’s clear that the department has been implementing reforms to the income assistance program. When will the department take the next step and start developing basic income for Nunavummiut?” Main asked.
“We continue to look at how we can reform based on what we’ve heard from the community consultations,” Sheutiapik said.
Main said while he is aware the department is working on reforming the income assistance program, his question was about its plans for a basic income program.
“What I was asking about was taking the next step in developing a new program as outlined in this report, which would replace income assistance. So I’ll ask the same question again: when will the department take the next step and start working on developing basic income for Nunavummiut?”
Sheutiapik said the department has been focused on reform, but is also open for discussions with stakeholders.
A pilot project called the Ontario Basic Income Pilot was launched in 2017, but was cancelled in April 2019 with no evaluation completed to measure its impact on individuals and communities.
Sheutiapik’s written response also noted there have not been recent consultations within the last three years about guaranteed basic income in Nunavut. The concept was, however, brought up by the Nunavut Roundtable for Poverty in 2013.
“This gives me the impression that this is a dead idea and I’m trying to breathe some new life into it,” Main said.
Main persisted, asking Sheutiapik again when the department will start developing basic income for Nunavummiut.
But Sheutiapik said it was Main who was putting the question on the table.
“I have to say and be honest that the only one that’s inquired about this such thing is yourself. So maybe you and I will start that dialogue within the department because the reforms we’ve been going through is because of community consultation,” Sheutiapik said.