MLA Report: Pilot projects will allow B.C. to calculate costs of basic income

Basic income has potential to help respond to the growing shift towards more part-time work

I have been running a series on my website exploring the concept of basic income. At its core, basic income is a payment that individuals receive from their government, which does not depend on fulfilling specific criteria, such as meeting job search or monitoring requirements.

My last MLA report outlined how basic income could be an effective tool in helping us address the high levels of poverty we have in B.C., and remedy some of the shortcomings of our current social assistance programs. A second reason why I believe basic income is an idea worthy of consideration for B.C. is its potential to help us respond to the shift we are witnessing in the world of work.

We are experiencing a trend away from long-term, full-time work, toward short-term, part-time, and contract-based work. This is a national trend that B.C. has not escaped: 75 per cent of jobs created in the last year have been part-time.

Some sectors are hit much harder than others: the natural resource, manufacturing, and education sectors, for example, have seen some of the largest increases in precarious work. And there are indications this trend will continue. The rise in precarious work is leaving many with significant financial insecurity, juggling part-time jobs, struggling to make ends meet, and worrying about an uncertain future.

Recent years have also seen unprecedented technological advances, and there has been much talk about the potential for robots to replace humans in a wide variety of jobs. A number of recent studies suggest the potential for the elimination of jobs across a range of sectors, and soon. Automation is already significantly affecting jobs in manufacturing and the taxi and trucking industries.  If automation results in job loss at the rate many are predicting, the outcome would have profound consequences for our society.

Basic income could help us respond to both of these trends. It could help those suffering from the rise in precarious employment, by providing a measure of financial security. It could also provide a means to remedy the unemployment and inequality that automation could cause. Basic income holds exciting prospects for improving the lives of many in our province and securing us against an uncertain future. It could be an essential tool to help us address the challenges that we face today as well as respond to the fundamental changes that may be coming our way tomorrow.

However, it is important to recognize that a number of questions remain, particularly concerning the net cost of the policy, and how it would affect people’s choices about work, both of which cannot be answered without real world results. This is why I recommend that we run pilot projects in B.C. to test the idea. Pilot projects would allow us to calculate the net costs and measure the outcomes on communities in B.C.

Many other jurisdictions are undertaking pilot projects. Internationally, Finland and the Netherlands are both running pilots. Ontario is undertaking consultations to inform the launch of their pilots next year, and earlier this month, MLAs in P.E.I. voted unanimously in favour of developing pilots. There is no reason why B.C. should be left behind in the move to test this idea.

If you are interested in reading more about basic income or would like to share your thoughts, please visit my website: I welcome your feedback on the idea of basic income and the role you think it could play in B.C.

Andrew Weaver is the MLA for Oak Bay – Gordon Head.