Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Cancel Anytime
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Canada’s most-awarded
newsroom for a reason
Stay informed for a
lot less, cancel anytime
“Exemplary reporting on
COVID-19” – Herman L
per week
for 24 weeks
Get full access to
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](,dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

Of all the measures introduced by the federal government to blunt the social impact of the pandemic, none was as popular as the Canada Emergency Response Benefit.

CERB, as it became known, offered Canadians thrown out of work a $2,000 cheque every four weeks. In September, the program transitioned to an enhanced employment insurance scheme.

But it was CERB that re-ignited calls from social welfare organizations, as well as from politicians representing three of our federal parties, for a guaranteed basic income (GBI) that ensures no one in Canada is trapped living below the poverty line.

Story continues below advertisement

That idea has been around for decades. Pilot projects testing its efficacy have come and gone over the years. Yet, no government has ever given it serious consideration, mostly for good reason: the price tag. Canada’s Parliamentary Budget Officer has estimated the cost of such a program could be anywhere between $47- and $98-billion, depending on how it was devised.

Still, that has not stifled calls for such a policy, with various groups insisting it remains the best way of lifting people out of a deprived existence to become more productive members of society.

Except that maybe it isn’t.

The B.C. government recently released a study on the subject that was ordered as part of the since-detonated governing agreement that New Democrats struck with the Green Party after the 2017 election. Covering All the Basics: Reforms for a More Just Society is likely one of the most exhaustive examinations on the viability of a guaranteed income conducted anywhere in the world. And it will surely be waved around by those who have long insisted that a GBI is not the panacea it’s often cracked up to be.

To say it’s exhaustive may not do it justice. It took 30 months to complete and was buttressed by 40 commissioned papers, which is partly why it weighs in at 500 pages. In the end, the expert panel that authored it is unequivocal: there are better, more effective ways of creating a more just society than through a guaranteed income.

Panel chair David Green, an economics professor at the University of B.C., said the GBI concept has several shortcomings. For starters, he said, most models have it being administered through the tax system. Yet, 14 per cent of people in Canada don’t even file taxes, according to the report.

The panel also found no evidence to support claims by GBI proponents that it will lead to an expansion of the workforce and a significant increase in gross domestic product. Many GBI pilot projects did not last long enough or weren’t sufficiently shielded from political interference to offer definitive verdicts.

Story continues below advertisement

So if not GBI, then what? The panel found that it would be much more efficient and effective to expand and refine existing social programs and to take a more targeted approach to the associated problems of poverty than handing out money. Indeed, the study estimated that a far-ranging GBI would cost the B.C. government about $52-billion annually – or roughly twice the size of the current provincial budget.

“We really determined that the needs of society are truly too diverse to be answered with a single cheque from government,” Prof. Green told me.

There was far more bang for the buck to be realized by extending financial supplements to include dental coverage and rent for those with low incomes, among other initiatives. While the study focused on British Columbia, its recommendations would likely be applicable to jurisdictions across the country.

Another group the panel focused on was youth aging out of care – kids in the foster system who lose their government support at the age of 19. The report said these individuals – about 1,000 a year – could benefit from cash transfers and wraparound social support to help them transition to life on their own.

The panelists recommended more aid and access to support programs for women fleeing domestic violence and for those with disabilities. It advised making assistance through the tax system – such as the child opportunity benefit – more streamlined and easier to comprehend.

Admittedly, none of this is as sexy-sounding as a guaranteed income for all. It’s far more granular, almost technocratic in nature. But it’s also likely to deliver far more in the way of results than any single cheque could.

Story continues below advertisement

“All of these changes will improve the attractiveness of work more effectively than receiving cash benefits, reducing the emphasis on a requirement to work in favour of support for work,” the panel wrote in its summary.

“The result will be the dignity and self-respect provided by work … and economic and fiscal gains for society.”

Keep your Opinions sharp and informed. Get the Opinion newsletter. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies