Alberta and Perceptions of Basic Income
New Survey Data shows two-thirds of Albertans support a basic income
Lee Stevens, VCC Policy & Research Specialist
The public health crisis has in many ways worsened and accelerated many gaps in the social support system, making the case for a basic income stronger. While Alberta was experiencing an economic downturn prior to COVID-19, the impacts of the pandemic are clear. Statistics Canada data shows Alberta with the highest per capita use of the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB).
How do we ensure that all Calgarians can meet their basic needs? Almost 1 in 4 Albertans are on CERB and with those benefits coming to an end, how will the consistent volatility in the economy impact recovery in Alberta? It’s clear that a basic income is the right next step.
What is a basic income?
We define a basic income as a regular, predictable income provided by the government, unconditionally available to all who need it, and sufficient to provide for a decent lifestyle and enable full participation in the community. Regardless of work status.
Vibrant Communities Calgary (VCC) believes that there is solid evidence for a basic income and detailed modelling to do it in a way that uniquely serves Canada. Today, neither work nor the existing system of social supports and services can ensure that all Calgarians can meet their basic needs, which is why VCC supports basic income. We also align with the design principles outlined by Basic Income Calgary (see below).
How do Albertans feel about a basic income?
In a survey conducted in June, VCC and EndPovertyEdmonton found that the majority of Albertans support the idea of implementing a basic income. The reasons behind support for a basic income included its ability to help people and families who need it most and/or are low-income survive, to help people meet their basic needs, and to reduce poverty, including homelessness.
One in five Albertans supports $1,500-$1,999 per month as the appropriate basic income payment. Participants also viewed the Federal Government as the most likely order of government to create and administer this program. The full report is available here.
Basic income and poverty reduction
The Enough for All Strategy includes 10 key levers of change one of which is income support. “Adequate income support programs are a critical part of the community’s social safety net,” which is why, in January of 2017, VCC supported the creation of Basic Income Calgary, an action group of the Basic Income Canada Network and an Enough for All stakeholder. The group is striving to gain broad support for a basic income program for Alberta based on five core principles that must guide the design:
- Universal: It should be unconditionally available to all who need it.
- Individual: It should be delivered to individuals (although it may be calculated for households).
- Adequate: It should be adequate, or sufficient to provide for a decent lifestyle and enable full participation in the community.
- Complementary: It should be one part of a robust social safety net and supports system.
- A step forward: It should leave no one who depends on income support worse off than they are now.
We already have a partial basic income for families with children, and it’s working
- The Canada Child Benefit is already a partial successful step towards basic income. Studies show that families use the money to better the lives of their children by paying for food, clothing, school supplies, and school fees.
Past and recent research indicates that fears about a basic income affecting people’s willingness to keep or take paid work are unfounded
- Evidence from the basic income pilot program completed in the 1970s in Dauphin, Manitoba revealed that it had minimal impact on the labour supply and that it led to a reduction in hospitalizations, fewer mental health diagnosis, and fewer high school dropouts. A recent study of recipients of the prematurely ended Ontario basic income pilot showed that many of those previously employed not only did not leave employment but moved to higher-paying and more secure jobs.
Income security builds resilience and can improve mental and physical health outcomes
- A survey conducted with the Ontario pilot recipients also found that despite the short length of time the pilot was in place, participants experienced a significant decrease in stress, anxiety, and other mental health issues. Respondents reported that the basic income helped them to better manage family, paid employment, and community responsibilities. They also found it transformational, fundamentally reshaping their sense of self-worth and hope for a better future.
A basic income is the next step in recovery, it makes social and economic sense.
 Milligan, K. & Stabile, M. (2008). Do Child Tax Benefits Affect the Wellbeing of Children? Evidence from 2 Canadian Child Benefit Expansions. American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, American Economic Association, vol. 3, pages 175-205. Retrieved from https://www.nber.org/papers/w14624
 Forget, E. L. (2011) The Town With No Poverty: The Health Effects of a Canadian Guaranteed Annual Income Field Experiment. Canadian Public Policy – Analyse de Politiques. 37(3). Pp. 283 – 305. Retrieved from: https://utpjournals.press/doi/pdf/10.3138/cpp.37.3.283
 Ontario was in the midst of a three-year basic income pilot when the newly elected government in 2018 cancelled the pilot program.
 See Ferdosi et al (2020). Southern Ontario’s Basic Income Experience. Retrieved from: https://labourstudies.mcmaster.ca/documents/southern-ontarios-basic-income-experience.pdf
 See Ferdosi et al, p. 4.