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Universal Basic Income could buy happiness

If implemented in Canada, this financial support program could improve the lives of all Canadians.

Anyone who says that money can’t buy happiness has likely never heard of Universal Basic Income. They’ve also probably never considered the reality of the millions of Canadians who live in extreme poverty and the measures it would take to address this issue. If implemented, this program could have far-reaching positive impacts in reducing and preventing poverty—by extension, it could improve the health, mental health and living conditions of Canadians. 

Before we get ahead of ourselves, what is Universal Basic Income? UBI—sometimes referred to as guaranteed basic income—is a no-strings-attached income program in which every Canadian above the age of 17 receives a monthly payment that is enough to cover their basic needs. This would be a direct transfer of funds regardless of income, employment status or any factor that usually determines social aid eligibility. As a result, every citizen would be given a foundation upon which to build a better life. The exact amount is unclear, but amounts cited usually seem to be around $1,000 per month. For now, talk of UBI seems to be just talk; however, the Senate Chamber is currently considering a bill that would push the finance minister to create a framework for the program. 

UBI is not a new idea, nor is it unique to Canada. United States President Richard Nixon proposed a Family Assistance Plan in 1969 that bore major resemblances to guaranteed income, and Martin Luther King Jr. said guaranteed income was the most effective way to tackle poverty. The largest North American pilot project to test the program, however, took place in the small town of Dauphin, Manitoba, from 1974 to 1979.  During those four years, every citizen was given the money they needed to survive. The results of this project, which came to be known as “Mincome,” were striking—the need for health care and mental health care declined and there was a higher graduation rate in highschools. 

With any major proposition comes concerns and criticisms. For example, why should rich people receive a handout too? And where will all this money come from? UBI Works, a platform dedicated to the program, argues that the program could be funded through higher taxes on the wealthy, including fewer tax breaks for companies, which means that wealthy people would not ultimately be beneficiaries. 

Another criticism of UBI is the “reciprocity worry,” wherein it is argued that it is unfair to reward people who are not contributing to the workforce. This is a concern especially as UBI seemingly decreases the desire and need to work. Though that may seem plausible, the fact that UBI only covers basic necessities would mean that people will continue working. The Mincome Project proved this, as only recent mothers and high school students showed a decline in labour. Providing a liveable baseline does not promote laziness, it only gives people the basics that everyone deserves. What’s more, UBI may become a necessity as AI reshapes the job market.

With that in mind, we can also begin to reconsider how a capitalist society has shaped our values in regards to work. The reciprocity worry hinges on the idea that a person’s usefulness is contingent on how much they work and fails to acknowledge non-remunerated contributions such as caring for children. UBI would help us grow toward a world in which “work” is redefined and life is not centered around labour. 

This is especially important when hard work doesn’t always pay off. Approximately 3.7 million Canadians live in poverty, according to a 2021 Canadian Government report. This translates to roughly 10% of the population who do not have the means to cover all their basic necessities such as food, clothing, transportation, and shelter. As someone who grew up in a household below the poverty line and who is lucky enough to no longer be in that situation, I understand the impacts of poverty as well as the importance of social assistance. There’s a misconception that poor people just don’t work hard enough, but that’s simply untrue. The reality is that the poverty cycle is near impossible to break, and every situation varies immensely. 

It also must be noted that poverty disproportionately affects marginalized groups such as BIPOC, members of the LGBTQIA2+ community, immigrants and refugees, radicalized people, and single-parent families. Poverty is an issue of human rights.

Take a moment to imagine a world with UBI. Lower stress will lead to lower rates of depression and substance abuse. Students can focus on their studies. People will have more time to devote to their families, to their hobbies, and to following career paths they actually enjoy. Small businesses will pop up. People will travel more. Pipe dreams will become possible. 

This program may not solve all problems, but it has the power to drastically improve lives. Everyone has the right to achieve a proper standard of living without fighting for it everyday. Universal Basic Income is just one step, but it is a big one. 

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When you keep your voice quiet, don’t shout about results

We shouldn’t be required by law to vote, but we should practice our duty as citizens

Whether or not voting should be made mandatory has often been debated. While some believe that those who don’t vote should be fined, I disagree. A key tenet of western democracy is the right to vote. A right is something that is granted to those who live in any given society. According to the CIA World Factbook, 22 countries currently have it as law that you must vote. In Australia, one of the 22, the government implements a $20 fine for those who don’t vote in federal elections. However, just because you are afforded a right, does not mean you have to use it.

In my opinion, the government forcing you to participate in a vote goes against what freedom means. Voting isn’t a jobwe vote because it is a right that was fought for, and to voice our opinion on how society works. In the last Canadian federal election in October 2015, about 68 per cent of eligible Canadians participated in the vote, a notable increase from 2011, where just over 61 per cent participated, according to Global News. In comparison, voter turnout in the Australian 2016 election was at 91 per cent, the lowest since mandatory voting was introduced in 1925, according to sources from the Australian government’s website. Obviously, the forced voting produces a bigger turnout, and that is, in theory, better for a democratic society.

The problem with mandatory voting is that it becomes less of a right and more of a demand. Do I want every single eligible Canadian to vote? Absolutelyvoting is, in my opinion, the most important aspect to maintaining a free society. However, when voting is no longer in our control, it defeats the purpose entirely.

I consider voting a democratic duty rather than a decision a government makes for you. In order to be a functioning member of society, you must participate in voting. If you are eligible to vote, and you choose not to, I believe you have no right to complain about who’s in charge of our government.

Since our confederation in 1867, according to several sources including Veteran Affairs, over 115,000 Canadians have died to not only defend our freedom to vote, but to ensure that millions around the globe can as well.

If your preferred candidate doesn’t win, at the end of the day, that is still democracy. If you fulfilled your duty as a citizen, your opinion matters just as much as those who voted for the winning candidate. Become politically active and peacefully protest if you don’t like the actions of a politician. As soon as you stop participating, you give the politician more power over you. I urge everyone to vote, even if their political views differ from mine. I would much rather have my political ideas challenged in a democratic society than have those ideas go unopposed.

I say this because that is what democracy is all about; groups of people with different opinions coming together, to make a country better. Is our system perfect? Of course not––politics is a messy business, but when you don’t participate, it encourages corruption.

When people don’t vote, I believe they shouldn’t be upset that their opinion isn’t taken seriously. When you choose to not vote, you are just as responsible for passing that law, as the hand that signs the bill.

Graphic by Ana Bilokin

 

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