Summary Asian Women for Equality October 17th Event on Basic Income

On October 17th, McGill’s Asian Women for Equality hosted the 2nd Public Conversation about Guaranteed Livable Income and Sustainability in Montreal. The even was a panel discussion on the role of Guaranteed Income in shaping a sustainable future. The panel featured Rob Rainer of Basic Income Canada Network and Cathy Orlando, the founder of the first chapter of Citizens Climate Lobby in Canada. Community respondents from Climate Justice Montreal, the Sustainability Research Symposium, and Action Réfugiés Montréal were also present to ask questions and guide discussion for the dozens of interested citizens who came to learn more about Guaranteed Income and sustainability.

Sarah Mah, the chief organizer of the event and spokesperson for Asian Women for Equality, kicked the event off by reminding the audience of the relevance of this topic. Speaking less than two weeks after the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released their landmark report, Mah commented on the urgency we face to find viable options to curtail climate change, lest we face ecological catastrophe. As she explained, poorer countries are facing growing climate issues and do not have the resources to properly deal with it. Similarly, the link between poverty, identity, and climate has become evident: poor women are more severely impacted by climate change than any other group, with 75% more women than men dying in environmental issues on average.

Fortunately, not all hope is lost – a point Rob Rainer, the first panel speaker, emphasized in his presentation. He hammered home that if we want real change, it requires more than a few fleeting commitments; it requires a paradigm shift. That is, we need a change that dramatically affects our social, economic, and ecologic relationship with the world around us. That change is a Guaranteed Income for all. Rainer went on to show that despite Guaranteed Income representing a total shift in the way we function, it is more feasible today than ever before. Citing our Canada Child Benefit plan and our national pension, Rainer effectively argued that we already have a Guaranteed Income for children and older adults – so why not the rest? As he put it, “never believe we can’t afford a basic income […] especially in a big rich country like this”. With this basic income, people would have more resources and time to make greener choices and engage in their community. Some examples of ways a Basic Income might empower citizens is by promoting urban farming, participation in local food economies, wildlife monitoring, plastic cleaning, and citizen engagement in broader environmental policy. All of these things are necessary if we want to improve our planet’s condition. The challenge however, as Rainer says, is that “it’s difficult to do [any of this] when you’re struggling”. A Guaranteed Income would alleviate this struggle and give people greater opportunity to engage with their community and environment.

The second panel speaker, Cathy Orlando, echoed many of Rainer’s points, but importantly showed that the effect of Guaranteed Income on the environment can go further than just promoting individual action. That is, Guaranteed Income could be (in part) funded by a carbon fee and dividend policy. In this way, Guaranteed Income would not only bolster environmental action after people receive the money, as Rainer explained, but could be funded in a way that incentivises people to reduce their carbon footprint from the get-go. But what is a carbon fee and dividend policy? As Orlando explained, a carbon fee and dividend policy “puts an incrementally increasing fee on carbon pollution and gives all the money back to people in a cheque, regardless of income, regardless of carbon footprint”. Put in this way, Orlando outlines four advantageous feature to the policy, beyond the obvious reduction in emissions. First, it helps families by putting money directly in their pocket. Second, it is non-partisan, representing a net advantage to people on both sides of the political spectrum. Third, it supports innovative market solutions to problems, by incentivising businesses to produce products that reduce consumer emissions, thus saving them money, and making the business more competitive and profitable in the long-run. Last, it has the capacity to “ramp-up” in a predictable and incremental way, making it healthy for a growing economy and fluctuating market. Through her work as the International and Canadian Outreach Manager for the Citizens Climate Lobby, Orlando has worked with hundreds of citizens to push for a version of this bill in parliament that will charge $150/ton of carbon by 2030. While she seemed very optimistic that the bill would pass, she urged listeners to get involved. “These things take time, but we don’t have time in this climate crisis […] We have to make sure we don’t lose this”.

After the panel speeches, community respondents and members of the audience had the opportunity to pose questions to the panellists. In response to Vincent Duhamel’s of Climate Justice Montreal question on the exact calculations and criteria for a Basic Income, Orlando highlighted that these policy changes can take a long time to be decided. The best we can do as citizens, she argued, is to contact our representatives and make our demands heard in hopes of shaping the direction the policy will take. Many of the other questions followed suit, digging into the specifics of a Guaranteed Income and its effects on different groups of people. In response to our question on how a Basic Income would help curtail overconsumption, Rainer and Orlando converged in saying that Basic Income is “like a sense of calm”. It makes sure that people have security and provides a foundation from which people can grow and make better financial and environmental decisions. Paul Clark of Action Réfugiés Montréal posed an important question: How do refugee claimants fit into the Basic Income picture? Again, Orlando highlighted that specific policies can take time to hammer out the exact details and beneficiaries, but both panellists agreed that Basic Income should represent a human right and should not be restricted on the basis of refugee status. As Rainer put it, “Whether you’re a refugee, an immigrant, or a Canadian, if you’re in Canada, there should be a framework to support you with the things you need”.

Much discussion ensued, but a particularly important question came from an audience member towards the end of event: What do we do if this is the first we’re hearing about this and want to get involved? The answer to this question is both diverse and straightforward. As Rainer, Orlando, and Mah pointed out, the points of entry into fighting for a fairer, freer, and better world are multiple. Some involve getting involved in politics, some involve fighting for greener initiatives in your workplace and school, and some involve attending events like this one and learning from your community about their needs and concerns. What unites them all though is the desire and conviction to fix what is broken. As Rainer poses it, “We have the capacity to provide to everyone here. Do we have the political will?”

If you’re reading this and feel like we have that will here in Quebec, we hope that you will contact us and help us work towards instituting a Basic Income in Quebec to do our part to help our people, our families, and our planet.