Economy

‘We are not considering’ guaranteed basic income, says NWT minister


The NWT’s employment minister says no form of guaranteed basic income will be explored by the territorial government over the next four years.

Prized by MLAs like Yellowknife’s Rylund Johnson and Kevin O’Reilly, a guaranteed income is a form of social assistance that ensures all residents are given enough money to sustain a basic quality of life.

Leading up to last fall’s election, Johnson called for pilot programs in the NWT that would wrap existing federal and territorial benefits and supports, plus a top-up, into one income.

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“I think the Northwest Territories is 100-percent set up for a guaranteed liveable income,” he said at the time.

Discussion of guaranteed basic income in the legislature came as new data suggested nearly 10,000 NWT residents are struggling to make ends meet.

“What we really need is a systematic approach to change,” O’Reilly, the Frame Lake MLA, said on Thursday.

“An example of that is guaranteed basic income, or at least a pilot project around guaranteed basic income.

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“Has the minister or his department considered a guaranteed basic income pilot project in the NWT, and when is he prepared to make that happen?”

The answer from RJ Simpson, the employment minister, was: not any time soon.

“The fact is we are not considering this,” Simpson responded.

However, the minister suggested his dismissal of the idea was not ideological but logistical. Simpson said cuts to policy positions at the NWT government meant there was no capacity to explore introducing such an approach.

“The work that it would take to actually look into this and do the research is not doable, given what we have been mandated to do by this Assembly,” Simpson told O’Reilly.

“Successive governments over the past number of decades have gone through cuts. The people to get cut are the policy people. We are pretty thin on policy positions.

“It is tough to do a lot of the work that we want to do. I am not even sure how we are going to do the things that we are mandated to do, and that this Assembly is asking of us.

“To take on a project of this magnitude, I just can’t do it at this point.”

Pursuit of a guaranteed income was not among the NWT government’s 22 priorities released following the fall election. The closest thing on the list is a pledge to work toward the introduction of universal childcare.

True guaranteed basic income does not presently exist anywhere in Canada. Manitoba had a five-year “Mincome” experiment in the 1970s, while an Ontario pilot program with similarities to some aspects of a guaranteed income was cancelled by the incoming provincial premier, Doug Ford, in 2018.

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