UBI, a Western Canadian Perspective

Looking ahead at what the future holds, and how a basic income can help level the playing field. The data is there, now we must follow it.

September 1, 2022

by Jason Gwozd

My name is Jason. I’m from Calgary, Alberta, Canada. I have lived here all my life. I come from a middle-class background. My father was a chemical engineer for multiple oil and gas firms, and my mother worked as an OR nurse for several decades, and now works as a manager for a cancer ward. They both raised me to value hard work, as well as contribute to Canadian society.

I’ve earned a salary since I was 12 years old. My first job was babysitting kids at the church my family used to go to every Sunday. There were off and on years of employment from then on so I could finish my schooling, but by the time I was 18, I went on to be employed for 12 years straight. In addition to attending Mount Royal University for a Sociology program, I had also taken on secondary jobs on top of my primary lifeguarding one. I’m no stranger to hard work and felt proud contributing my services towards my fellow Albertans.

In September 2020, I was laid off without cause. Like many around the world, I was let go due to the pandemic shutdowns. My recreational facility lacked the funds to keep me on their payroll. Even though I had worked myself up to a supervisor position, lifeguards were all of the sudden in very low demand. I was left jobless.

As my senior position became more time-consuming, it was illogical for me to take a second job beforehand. Without any job income to support my needs, I had to turn to Employment Insurance. With so many places of business shut down, even a simple receptionist job within my area had over 200 applicants. I thought my position was safe, I thought I would’ve been called back after my shifts were reduced due to COVID-19 restrictions, but I was wrong.

Around the time I lost my job, I called out to UBI Works to start volunteering. The decision wasn’t just on a whim, as I had learned much about Universal Basic Income during my Mount Royal University days, and became very interested in it. Stanford University defines Universal Basic Income as “a periodic cash allowance given to all citizens, without means test to provide them with a standard of living above the poverty line.” I had a burning question that remained unanswered in me for many years, how can we effectively make human existence better? At the very least, a Guaranteed Minimum Income, a “low-income support program with a more efficient, lower cost system that treats people with dignity,” became my answer.

Considering how Milton Friedman, a famous American Economist, helped popularize Basic Income as a Negative Income Tax, I personally don’t see UBI or a GMI as a leftist (or liberal) stance alone. We as a human species are going through one of the worst economic storms not seen in several generations. Even such high-ranking economists like Benjamin Tal with CIBC admits that all Canadians need a lot of financial help in order for our economy to recover.

However, my main concern is not just for the short term, but how this pandemic and automation of jobs will affect all humans down the road. Even in Canada, we are experiencing a phenomenon called “Underemployment,” a term used to describe an individual who "is working less than they would like; and invisible underemployment, where an individual is not working in a field or position that matches their capabilities or skills.” Despite being a supervisor at my old job, the maximum amount of hours per week I was allowed to work was 30. This trend isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. Canadians will not only experience a shortage of work, but have to endure work of a lesser quality in the future.

Considering how unemployment benefits come with several restrictions, lifting people out of poverty cannot be done through traditional means of welfare alone.

To this day, I still search for work. My EI benefits have run out, so now I’m burning through savings to pay rent and food. I’m thankful to have emotional support from both friends and family in these trying times. There is fear in me for others who aren’t as fortunate as myself.  

I’m gaining some income through freelance writing projects, but it’s not nearly enough to sustain my living costs. Even so, I still search for meaningful work.

Could I apply for easier jobs? Could I get myself into a trade? It’s possible. Yet, I have to ask myself other questions regarding that too. What kind of work am I capable of doing? Do I have the aptitude for doing a trade job in the first place? Will I have to move to a different city, away from my friends and family, just so I can get a “decent job?” Maybe, but I can’t answer any of those questions without careful planning.

The skills I have currently either don’t work with the jobs out there, or make me too “overqualified” to take the position, even something as easy as being a grocery clerk. And for trades, I’ve personally experienced how much physical strain it takes to do those kinds of jobs well. Knowing my own physical limits, I decided that I wouldn’t have the stamina necessary to do trade work as a full-time position. That and I’d risk permanent physical damage to my body.

Can I work-out to become more fit for a trade? Sure, but how costly would that be in the meantime? How long would it take to get the muscle mass necessary to get the job? How much of my savings would I have to spend on a gym membership, or even extra food? Will the job even be available by the time I’m ready? Wouldn’t it just be more efficient to apply for other kinds of jobs instead?

Also, moving away to a different location is both expensive and stressful. From the jobs that I’ve looked atover the years that require a re-location, the meager salaries don’t justify a move on my part. That, and I’d be all alone, meaning my social support system would also become unavailable in my future times of need. I’m talking about personal interaction, not just phone calls or an online gaming session.

Yes, I’m taking a financial risk by finding work that I both like and am capable of, but if given the choice, who wouldn’t do the same? If push comes to shove, I’ll be forced to look for work that won’t be satisfying in anyway other than being financially stable. If given the choice, anyone would rather live than just survive.

I’ve heard the message “work hard and you’ll achieve anything!” all my life. However, I’ve come to learn that that message is an exception, not the rule. Current economic circumstances simply don’t allow everyone to do as that message suggests, not even the majority. I had the benefit of being born into a well-off family, in more ways than just having lots of start-up money. Some people need help from outside sources to actually do well in any given society.

In that regard, adding more jobs to an economy can be beneficial, but from all my studies and experiences, I’ve come to know how businesses are in it to make profit, not support everyday citizens, especially when the bottom line comes into consideration. Only government and vast acts of political will can help raise everyone to a healthy economic level. Only something like a Basic Income (GMI) can help achieve this result.

There will still be new jobs, new businesses, new opportunities for growth and innovation. As the data shows, those in the lowest income bracket tend to spend more than they earn. With more spending power for those on the lowest income brackets, the resulting spending can result in more jobs being created rather than less if a Basic Income was implemented today. Which small business (or even large business) owner wouldn’t want more customers buying their product and/or services?

With the benefits of UBI and GMI outweighing their costs, even someone from western Canada can appreciate what these programs can bring. All in all, it’s not a matter of east vs. west, or conservative vs. liberal, but humanity simply taking better care of itself.

Both a GMI and UBI would give the freedom for individuals to create value, but they also must live up to the responsibility in maintaining that value creation for the benefit of their local and national communities.

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To shift the conversation about basic income to recognize it as an economic need and economic opportunity, with the goal of seeing UBI implemented in Canada.

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We want a Canada where everyone can pursue their potential and not be held back by basic material constraints or unsafe environments.

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