The co-founder of a major advocacy group in Canada for people with disabilities says there needs to be a “corrective balance” in the amount of money available for programs versus the amount of money available for individuals.
Within that difference lies the elements of providing a basic income to all Canadians who may need it, says Al Etmanski.
Etmanski is the co-founder of Planned Lifetime Advocacy Network (PLAN), a non-profit organization founded in 1989 to help families who have children with disabilities. PLAN works in collaboration with families and the community to build personal support networks, make plans to secure the future of kids with disabilities, and brings families together for mutual support.
Etmanski, based in the Vancouver area, has been following basic income policy debates since he began work on his Masters degree in the 1970s. One of his instructors was a former deputy minister of welfare who had been a part of the Dauphin, Manitoba project and was also one of the architects of the Canada Assistance Plan. Later, Etmanski would come across Hugh Segal’s work on basic income.
The PLAN founder, an Order of Canada recipient, says that he has seen the “profound difference” that having enough money for personal needs can make in the lives of people with disabilities through the Registered Disability Savings Plan.
“Knowing they have money they can save that won’t be clawed back, money that they don’t have to report…they are treated with trust and respect. Its dignity personified,” he says.
Created by former Minister of Finance Jim Flaherty, it’s an innovative private savings vehicle enhanced with federal grants and bonds. It was inspired by Etmanski’s PLAN organization and by parents who were vocal advocates.
For every $1 put in an RDSP account, the federal government can match it with up to $3, if the family income is below $91,831. This is the Canada Disability Savings Grant. For people living on a low-income (less than $30,000), the federal government will put in $1000 each year for 20 years – known as the Canada Disability Savings Bond.
Moving the Dial on Poverty
Etmanski says Canadian governments have not been afraid to allocate resources to major programs, whether for people with disabilities, indigenous Canadians, or people living in poverty.
“And yet the dial hasn’t moved but we’re still allocating more money. We need a complementary reform to provide more individualized money,” he says.
The PLAN founder points to the “elegance” of the Guaranteed Income Supplement for seniors as an effective example.
“So I think there needs to be a corrective balance in allocations for programs versus allocations for individuals.”
Etmanski says there is substantive money for people who are poor, have a disability, or are indigenous, but it requires reform.
It’s an issue he admits must be approached with caution so that effective social programs are not gutted in favour of cutting a cheque to everyone.
“I’m simply saying that a companion reform would be to look at the allocation of resources for programs and services versus what we are targeting to individuals,” he says.
“We know that the poverty strategies we have had to date have not solved poverty.”
Etmanski would like to see more innovation than just conducting pilots, and he worries about election cycles disrupting the flow of progress in moving from pilot to reform.
Currently, Ontario is engaged in a three-year basic income pilot. In a power-sharing deal that transforms the political landscape of British Columbia, the New Democratic Party (NDP) and Green Party are committing to run a basic income pilot. Prince Edward Island is seeking to do a pilot with the help of the federal government and Quebec is spearheading a limited basic income, although there are few details available.
“We absolutely have to make poverty a non-partisan issue – it’s a cultural issue. I don’t want to wake up and not see change after these pilots.”