Basic income gospel at the poverty forum

“Greens in the legislature will change the tone; we work collaboratively with anyone.”

The opening quote on this report on the Hunger and Poverty Provincial Forum at Knox United Church August 20, 2019, hosted by Make Poverty History, the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg, Winnipeg Harvest, and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, is your first sign I may not be an unbiased reporter.

Despite his claim of civility, Green Party leader James Beddome couldn't quite resist some digs at the premier, whose party failed to send a single MLA to represent them in the debate.

Just recently, Mr Pallister replied to me that poverty was an important issue for his party, said Beddome, who placed a rubber chicken at the empty spot left at the table in hopes a PC candidate might be found to take the spot.

Moderator Richard Cloutier was clear in his opening remarks that the Q&A period was not intended for "speechifying," and it was, I daresay, one of the more civilized, rant-free talk back sessions with good questions from the audience and dignified interaction on the panel.

An exception to the good questions was one audience member who asked the panellist: "What do you think Pallister would say?" Overall, the panellists were fair to Pallister, reserving their scorn for things he'd publicly said and his policy track record of unconcern for those who are financially squeezed, but I'm a bit surprised lawyer Beddome didn't cry "Objection! Calls for speculation!" at the silly question.

Beddome was in my opinion the strongest candidate. He had a firm grasp on his platform and on the larger issues, delivering policy and numbers rapid fire in his 90-second and 60-second talking periods.

All the candidates had very similar themes and promises, only differing on the specifics, so they rarely challenged each other directly as they each made their promises for basic income, increased child care spaces at reduced costs, better health care including more mental health supports, and investments in higher education including tuition relief and facilitated transferability.

One exception was Beddome's rebuttal of NDP party leader Wab Kinew's roundly-acclaimed promise to levy heavy taxes on the top #1 income bracket to fund the NDP's basic income aspirations. “It's only $30 million in revenue," Beddome said, and the idea these extra funds would be channeled into raising minimum wage is foolishness since it would have no application in the private sector where the jobs are.

Speaking of jobs, Liberal candidate Shandi Strong -- who was in my opinion, not a very strong representative there tonight -- invoked "the doctors, lawyers, and teachers" of tomorrow that would have a chance to be educated due to the Liberals plans for mincome (guaranteed minimum income), repeating the refrain of Wab Kinew who waxed eloquently about his principal mother in law who raised herself out of poverty and her daughter to be a doctor. Certainly, receiving education and working public sector jobs is to be lauded, but both artisans and trades people have thoroughly respected careers that provide not only a decent living but contribute mightily to the community. There's something about government that tends to always only see things in terms of government??

Much of the evening revolved around all three parties' promises of some form of basic income.

"Give people more money so they feel more secure," said Beddome. "Ending poverty really is that simple: give the poor more money."

"The costs of poverty are astronomical," said Strong. "Spending on social services is more effective than spending on crises."  That was my moment to stand up and cheer. Great to hear a politician recognize that -- so often they cut the thousand dollar grant to the after-school intervention program for youth at risk, but invest millions in building more prisons!

Similarly, Beddome gave a nod to community centres who "don't cost much, but do a lot."

Moderator Cloutier had already set the stage by pointing out before the debate that poverty costs society, resulting in children in care, vulnerable people impacted by climate change, and people with a reduction in life expectancy of up to 8 years and those were largely the topics that revolved.

Beddome followed in his policy brief by highlighting the Green party's interconnected priorities of reducing poverty, addressing climate change and improving health care. He urged Manitoba to be a leader in introducing basic income -- and if the full agreement (except on the details) of the other two parties told the whole story, we could consider it done.

Beddome's presentation was the most compelling for me. He talked in numbers, in facts, in policies, and pointed to further documentation. He knew his plans cold and he knew how to defend them.
Kinew made lots of friends in the crowd with his narrative style. He wasn't afraid to spend a chunk of his 90 or 60 seconds telling a story to invite the listener to sympathize -- ironically, the same strategy he criticized in the premier, though one might argue the latter usually fails where the former succeeded tonight.

Both Beddome and Kinew made use of every opportunity to make a dig at Pallister, but Kinew in particular framed nearly all his plans as "reversing the cuts." It's tough to discern what's a cheap shot and what's deserved, especially in this context on this issue.

I wondered at the choice of Shandi Strong, a seasoned campaigner, but never-elected candidate, as Liberal party representative. It could be construed as a sign Dougald Lamont thinks the subject is beneath him. It does seem like a missed opportunity for the new party leader to get his voice in front of people. But then Shandi spoke from personal experience with the "adversarial" system -- being proactive, you find *some* employment and as soon as you earn $3 too much, you get nothing. Rightly or wrongly, human stories have an impact that facts just can't.

Beddome landed on this point several times, speaking to it most clearly in the Q&A when he said the educated experts are great but "we [also] need people with lived experience on every task force."

The last person at the mic spoke the sad reality, however (all the more sad because Beddome and Kinew, both party leaders, both great candidates, are running in the same riding) that none of them were likely to win in a few weeks. The premier's office is likely to remain blue, and that party's complete absence from the forum spoke on the likely trajectory of cuts.

"The Green Party has been at this for 15 years," Beddome said regarding basic income, observing now everyone tonight was rolling out their version, though the Greens were ignored when they first brought it up."We're trying to put new ideas on the table. I will work with whomever."

Kinew's bravado about his aspirations to fill the premier's office was admirable, I suppose, but Beddome's comments were more constructive. You don't have to be in power to come up with world changing ideas. Keep at them, and eventually the best ones will catch on. There is hope.

Cloutier gave an implicit dig with his invitation in his last words: "Democracy doesn't work unless you come to the table."


Popular Posts