*This article was originally published in Street News, Spring 2017 edition
By: Jeannette Tossounian
Senator Kim Pate has been a voice for incarcerated women in Canada having worked for 35 years first for the John Howard Society, then as the Executive Director of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies. With her recent appointment to the Senate, there was no doubt Ms. Pate would continue her work advocating for the most vulnerable in our society with her new role on Parliament Hill and a nationwide basic income plan is part of her vision.
Ms. Pate has the understanding that all are equal in different circumstances. When presented with better options, people would most likely seize the opportunities. “I think it’s finally important if people don’t have enough money to live that they end up in situations more precarious.” Says Ms. Pate.
Ms. Pate continues to say, “If you are in a more precarious situation you’re more likely to end up in circumstances where you come under the gaze or the control of the state and or in order to survive you’ll have to do things that involve what might be considered unlawful because of who has the power to enact and make laws.” This is why Ms. Pate believes it is crucial to introduce a basic income plan across Canada now.
Basic income is not a new concept. As a matter of fact, in Manitoba a form of basic income called “Mincome” was introduced in the 1970’s. The project took place in a few select communities in the province with the intent on analyzing the social effect by simply giving enough money unconditionally to those who re struggling to make ends meet. The project was squashed in 1979 when a new government came into power.
“They thought that people would just stay home and not work,” Ms. Pate says about the Mincom project. “Two things they found was people who otherwise wouldn’t able to go to school took advantage of the guaranteed minimum income for a period of time so they could go to school and then they didn’t require the income anymore they were able to get jobs and things. And then the other were women who otherwise would have had to go to work who wanted to stay home with their kids and that was the only group that stayed home more than they would have done if they didn’t have income.”
In hopes that a basic income program will start again, Ms. Pate would like to see homeless people have access to a basic income plan as well and points out programs in the United States where homeless people didn’t want to go to shelters, so they set them up in apartments instead and their lives improved drastically. “It would be a guaranteed livable income not just a subsistence income. The idea of social assistance was to provide government and state support for individuals so they could get a leg up out of poverty,” says Ms. Pate.
“It won’t be a big surprise if you got a decent place to live and you got food to eat and you got things to occupy your time chances are you’re less likely to be looking for things to anesthetize yourself to whether it’s drugs or alcohol, you’re less likely to be evolving mental health challenges that come from, and I don’t mean to dismiss mental health issues, but a lot of people will say that once they have an ability to self-actualise to do the things they want to do and feel like they are positive contributing members of the community, their mental health improves significantly.”
Ms. Pate uses one of her favourite quotes by Anatole France, “In its majestic equality, the law forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets, and steal loaves of bread.”[ This is referring to situations in France where the state cracked down started mass incarceration on the poor for being poor, just one example in history where state oppression of the poor preceded revolution, a possible glimpse of where Canada is heading as social assistance decreases across the country and the criminalization of the poor increases.