Mr. Jacques Guilbault (Saint-Jacques):
Mr. Speaker, first of all, I think that I can give satisfaction to the hon. member for Portneuf (Mr. Godin), who hopes that several members will support him. In fact I am one of those who will support him.
I believe that the need for a guaranteed income system was felt in Canada for many years. However, let me tell you that the motion of the hon. member for Portneuf has a serious weakness, since it purports to restrict the guaranteed minimum income allowances to the unemployed Canadian citizens. Therefore, such a system would not apply to the poor workers, no more than the existing welfare programs. It would be almost identical to the present programs based on a means test.
Mr. Speaker, the tremendous economic growth experienced by Canada after the second world war could leave many people under the impression that as our gross national product would increase, the problem of poverty would gradually lose its importance. However, the facts have shown the contrary.
The real per capita revenue has increased noticeably, but a good number of the people have not benefited enough to get rid of poverty. The affluent society is more and more conspicuous for the poor, but the rich, to a great extent, remain unmoved by the predicament of the poor.
Guaranteed Minimum Income
During the past years, we have become more and more aware of the persistence of poverty in Canada. If we are not more sensibilized to the problem, perhaps it is partly due to the fact that we keep believing that poverty means full deprivation. In other words, the threshold of poverty has often been considered as the level of minimum physical sustenance, providing one with just enough to be able to live and work.
Human needs, however, also involve many conventional or social features related to the changes in the way of life of the community. Obviously, these features change with time. For instance, more and more people are now becoming aware of the fact that many people are poor because they are deprived of income, of job opportunities, of the environment and the self-respect, which are considered normal in the community. Poverty should therefore be considered as a fact related to the average standard of living, which is constantly developing. This, however, does not preclude isolated cases of utter destitution.
The tentative evaluation of poverty which appears in the fifth annual Eeport of the Economic Council of Canada shows that about four million Canadians may be considered as living at or below the poverty level. Preliminary estimates for 1967 involve 840,000 families and 586,000 single persons, adding up to some 3,850,000 people.
The data provided by the Canada Assistance Plan and the Old Age Security Program show that out of this number, almost two million people are now receiving an income supplement based on a means or needs test, or an income supplement to the old age security pensions. In spite of that, their income remains below the poverty level.
[DOT] (5:20 p.m.)
We can therefore conclude from the Economic Council figures that most of the remaining two million persons belong to families of small wage-earners who belong to the labour force but whose income is below the poverty level.
We will therefore note that there are now m Canada more than four million men, women and children who live in poverty compared to their fellow citizens. Some, if not all of them, are inadequately housed, fed, undereducated, deprived of leisure and frustrated even in their own sense of dignity. Most of them can be fitted into one of three main categories, the first of which includes the people on welfare.
DEBATES April 20, 1970
Mr. Speaker, the term "welfare" has become a bitter one for more than a million persons who rely on the system. Benefits vary considerably from one province to another, but in practically all cases, they fail to meet the actual needs of the recipients. People in receipt of relief feel stigmatized. They are often fearful and scornful of the local welfare officials because of the great power they wield and because of their often irrevocable decisions. That category is made up mostly of mothers without husbands either as a result of desertion, death or divorce. Disabled persons, a great number of whom are totally unable to fend for themselves, also belong to this category.
Another class belonging to this category are the older people. The economic situation of the aged in Canada is amply evidenced by the fact that 52 per cent, or almost 750,000 of those on welfare, are eligible, either partially or fully, to the guaranteed minimum income.
For a good many of those elderly people the guaranteed income supplement does not provide decent living conditions. And yet most of them cannot get the advantages provided by the Canada Assistance Plan. It should be pointed out that a relatively small number of elderly people who are living in a state of poverty receive some supplementary assistance through the provinces.
Those I call the working poor are another category of needy people. More than two million people fall into this category. A good many of them note bitterly that in spite of all their efforts to succeed in supporting themselves their lot is actually worse than that of their fellow-citizens who are not working and get welfare payments. Those people sometimes earn their low income from marginal industries, from jobs on farms, from work done as woodcutters or as fishermen. It may be also that they live in economically underprivileged areas where they can find parttime or low-paying jobs only. They are also found in big cities with a very high cost of living and where they manage somehow to make both ends meet with an income in the neighborhood of the minimum salary.
But the motion presented by the hon. member for Portneuf does not provide for any benefit for those two million people who live, in spite of the fact that they work, in a state of poverty. I should like to add, in this connection, that this motion is not that much different from existing provincial welfare schemes.
April 20, 1970 COMMONS
Bachelors and married people with no children are not as a rule eligible to the various programs designed to meet the needs of particular classes of people. Still, it was expected that the unemployment insurance program would apply to all persons actually in need. But we note that, at the provincial level, welfare programs have not generally taken into account the needs of the low wage earners, that is what I call the category of poor workers.
Everyone knows that, generally speaking, poor workers are not entitled to social welfare benefits under present regulations. This situation prevails despite the fact that, under the provisions of the Canada Assistance Plan or of the agreements concluded with the provinces pursuant to that Plan, there is absolutely no restrictions concerning the federal share of the costs of assistance to fulltime workers.
Some provinces are determinedly against financial assistance as the basis of the general policy for full-time employees; other provinces do not reject it. However, the principle of granting financial assistance is extremely limited in those provinces and benefits are usually available only to the families which experience severe hardships.
The proposal of giving welfare allowances to full-time workers naturally raises the much debate question of determining reasons, more particularly so when it is considered with regard to the application of adequate forms of assistance to people who are unable to work. The objection is often raised that the fact of providing those who are unable to work with a satisfactory allowance can dampen the sense of independence of the recipients who are partly able to work and of those full-time workers who could not earn more than what the assistance brings. That is the basic dilemma.
If the welfare systems provide adequate assistance for the unemployables and give
identical help to employable recipients, but without any income exemption, the latter will
not be encouraged to work: any income arising out of a job only reduces the amount of benefits and leaves no advantage to someone who works.
If employable individuals are granted partial income exemptions beyond a basic adequate level, not only a huge expenditure of public funds will be necessary to help those whose income is lower than that level, but the systems will then apparently be subsidizing the small wage-earners. If to give an
Guaranteed Minimum Income incentive to work to employable individuals, a certain form of guaranteed income lower than an adequate minimum level is applied, the difficulty remains as far as the determination of an adequate income for the unemployables is concerned.
For two years now the federal government
has been carrying out a reappraisal of its social security programs and of their objectives in order to decide which method among those that I have just mentioned, or which combination of methods, would be more in harmony with the aims of social security in the future. A close analysis of the costs and consequences of each method is necessary.
In the throne speech last fall, as hon. members will recall, the government announced the preparation of a white paper on social security to be tabled in the House during the current session. That document will make known the results of the reappraisal that has been underway for the past two years. It will give the federal government an opportunity to make known its views and its intentions in this field. It will also allow for a general discussion on the matters in question and for a dialogue with the public on the methods to be used with regard to income security in Canada in the next ten years.
I ask the government of Canada to include in this white paper proposals relating to the establishment of a guaranteed minimum income plan for Canadians.
Mr. Stanley Knowles (Winnipeg North
Centre): Mr. Speaker, although there are one or two aspects of the motion now before us with which I must take exception, I should like as my first word to commend the hon. member for Portneuf (Mr. Godin) on bringing before us once again the question of a guaranteed income for the Canadian people. While I am in a mood to extend congratulations, may I also commend the hon. member for Saint-Jacques (Mr. Guilbault) on his insistence that our concern for those living in poverty should not be confined to persons and families on relief, social welfare and so on. He makes the point very well when he emphasizes that many people who are working are on incomes so low that they too are living in poverty. As a matter of fact, I suspect the figure he gave of four million Canadians really existing in poverty is probably a conservative one. I suggest this figure probably is five million or more.
April 20, 1970
Guaranteed Minimum Income [DOT] (5:30 p.m.)
However, Mr. Speaker, although I commend the hon. member for Portneuf for again bringing before us the question of the guaranteed income, even as I commend all hon. members who are interested in the problem of poverty, I must again say that I feel very strongly that we are not really comprehending the problem nor coming up with a solution when we talk about income guarantees that in effect are based on means or income tests. That, indeed, is my one quarrel with the motion placed before us by the hon. member for Portneuf, in that he wants this guaranteed minimum income, as he defines it, to be made available to every Canadian citizen "who is without work or other source of income." It seems to me that if we continue to think in terms of social assistance, social welfare, social security programs or what-have-you as having to be based on what people already have, based on whether or not they are at work, based on whether or not they have enough income, we are in effect keeping people in a category of poverty.
Hon. members are aware of the recent book by Ian Adams, entitled "Wall of Poverty". In it he has a chapter entitled-I think I have this correct although I do not have the book in front of me-"Keeping the poor that way." That is what concerns me about most of our approaches to the problem of poverty. We think of these people as the poor and so we must do something to help them; we do it out of kindness or compassion, or to keep the economy going. But we seem to assume they will still be the poor; they will still be in need of assistance. I submit that some day society will get wise to itself, and I do not see why we cannot start now and make to our people grants that are a form of guaranteed annual income without any reference to work, means tests or what-have-you.
There are in society many things in respect of which we do this already. We provide all our people with education. Oh, there are varying degrees of education that people get, depending upon their incomes, depending upon whether or not they can go up into the higher grades, to university and so on; but we provide it, and we boast of our society as one that provides education for all. We provide police and fire protection for all. We provide roads, highways and national defence. There are many things that are part of a society, and if you live in the society you are entitled to share in them.
I believe the day will come when we will say the same thing about a basic standard of living and about the number of dollars, the income, that is necessary so that everybody achieves that standard of living. We will grant everyone a basic income and let the income tax take it back from the wealthy. We started to move in that directiotn with respect to the old age security pension back in 1950 or 1951 when we provided a pension to everyone of a certain age regardless of his means or other income.
We retreated a bit when we added the guaranteed income supplement and put it on a means test basis. But I submit that it is still true that some of the sting that used to go with old age, when the old age pension was on a means test basis, has been taken out because there is this money available to everyone. That is what I want to see, not just for our senior citizens but for all groups in society.
Indeed, I think that a practical way to do this is to start with one group and move on to another. I would like to see a guaranteed income provided first of all to our senior citizens. I do not mean a guaranteed minimum income based on means; I do not mean a guaranteed income supplement-I mean raising the basic $75 to $150 and giving it to everyone, across the board.
I think our veterans group is another in respect of which we could practice the principle of a guaranteed income for all without regard to means or to other income. Then perhaps the next area is our families. Although people say that family allowances do not play the part that they did when they were brought in in 1945, this is a way of providing certain basic guarantees of income to all our family units regardless of the other income that people may have, regardless of whether they have jobs or not, and therefore family allowances should be increased. Mr. Speaker, that is the point I want to make, that providing a guaranteed income means granting it across the board, without any means or income test.
People ask about the cost of these things. Of course these programs cost money, but my hon. friend from Portneuf-even though he may have put it in words that the rest of us say is Social Credit jargon-is awfully close to the truth when he says we can provide things out of our gross national product. What is it that we want to provide? Do we want lots of filling stations, tall office buildings, great bank buildings and affluence of that
April 20, 1970 COMMONS
kind; affluence for a few at the top-or do we want the purpose of our gross national product first and foremost to be a guaranteed income for all our people? I believe it can be done. I believe it will have to be done.
I do not want to be accused of trying to paraphrase something a great man once said, but I think it is true that society, whether it is ours in Canada or that of the world around us, cannot go on half well-off and half poor, half secure and half insecure. If we are to hold together any kind of unity, any kind of society, certain things will have to be shared and enjoyed equally by all our people. I think the way to get this kind of thing started is to work for a guaranteed income. As I say, I would pick out certain groups as the first ones, such as senior citizens, veterans, and families.
The day of this kind of social security will come, and I do not think we should resist it by saying that it is futuristic or by going along with this gobbledegook about selective programs of social security and social welfare. That is turning the clock back, Mr. Speaker, and we do not want that. We want to move ahead into the kind of society that is possible in the future. Why does the future always have to be so far out in front, especially when you consider that in the meantime, as my hon. friend from Saint-Jacques (Mr. Guilbault) has said, four million or five million people in this great country of Canada, with all the wealth we are producing, are living in poverty today? It is not good enough. A guaranteed income could solve it, and I welcome the fact that the hon. member for Portneuf has asked us to do some thinking about this question again today.
[DOT] (5:40 p.m.)
Topic: PRIVATE MEMBERS' MOTIONS
Subtopic: THE CANADIAN ECONOMY