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GN plans to study true cost of guaranteed basic income

Arviat North-Whale Cove representative says key to evaluating potential benefits to Nunavummiut would be implementation of pilot project

The territorial government is moving ahead with plans to study the pros and cons of implementing guaranteed basic income across Nunavut.

Last month Nunavut Department of Family Services issued a request for proposals for a consultant to conduct a feasibility study on the potential benefits of such a program.

John Main the MLA for Arviat North-Whale Cove, who has been championing the merits of universal basic income, said he is "cautiously optimistic" to see the territory committing money to investigate the true costs and benefits of providing guaranteed basic income to Nunavummiut.

"It's encouraging to see the government is taking the next step in terms of looking at this idea and seeing how it would work in this Nunavut context," he said. "But I'm also aware of how complicated this issue is."

Guaranteed basic income is a model aimed at replacing income assistance that ensures people have sufficient income to live on, regardless of their work status.

Main pointed out that criticism over how the $2,000/month CERB payments have been spent by Nunavummiut show there are misconceptions about the realities of social assistance and its beneficiaries.

"We have the $2,000 benefit being used to explain increased substance abuse and crime. I'm very skeptical of the one-sided analysis of an issue like that. The critics of CERB – do they know if food insecurity has decreased? Do they know if children are being better fed in the morning?" he asked. "It's a great example of how you can't reduce people to an anecdote. Not everyone is a criminal or an addict."

Guaranteed basic income was first recommended as an alternative to the current system in a 2013 report commissioned by Nunavut's Anti-Poverty Secretariat.

Main said one of the biggest problems of the current system is that it discourages people from working and saving money, which ends up creating a cycle of poverty.

"It requires people to be poor to receive assistance," he said. "The end goal that I'd like to see us heading toward is greater labour force participation, greater employment and a greater standard of living. If universal income is going to get us there then I'm all for it."

Main pointed out the because Nunavut has such a complicated social assistance network comprised of various forms of relief, transitioning to a more efficient system will require lots of number crunching.

"We would always like to see the government act more and study less. But this is a complicated one," said Main.

"We have a lot of supports that would be have to adjusted or evaluated together if we wanted to pilot universal basic income."

It is the potential for a pilot project once the study is finished, which will be the key to measuring the feasibility of guaranteed basic income.

Mustafa Eric, communications specialist for the Department of Community and Government Services, told Nunavut News that the government couldn't comment on the study as the tender for the contract is still open.

Main said he doesn't feel overly confident the government will move ahead with a pilot. However, he said he would be following the proceedings closely and is looking forward to the release of the report in less than a year.

"We won't know the applicability of this to Nunavut until it is rolled out in some way shape or form for living Nunavut residents. And they can determine whether this work or not," he said.

"That's what I'm looking forward to is the real world application of this."