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Solving Four Problems at Once with a Guaranteed Basic Income for Canada

by John Brian Shannon

How could a Guaranteed Basic Income solve four problems in Canada, and what four problems might they be?

It’s a good question which can only be answered in the context of how these four things are being handled/not handled now.

So let’s see how a Guaranteed Basic Income could help Canada to care for people (including seniors, economic migrants to Canada, and refugees living in Canada) more efficiently than the present multilayered system.

Before we go any further, every group or individual who supports a Guaranteed Basic Income (GBI) may have a different idea of what constitutes a Guaranteed Basic Income. So to keep things simple for the purposes of this discussion, let’s agree for the rest of this post that a Canadian GBI would offer the following benefits to recipients:

  1.  $1088. per month (a standard anti-poverty metric)
  2.  Free provincial healthcare with no deductible
  3.  Free provincial dental care with no deductible
  4.  Free prescriptions with a $50 annual deductible
  5.  Low entry bar to access: Must be a Canadian citizen or legally landed immigrant
  6.  Over the age of majority in the province in which they reside
  7.  A person earning less than the official poverty line amount in the province in which they reside
  8.  Not a person serving time in prison
  9.  Not a person serving in Canada’s military
  10.  Not a person under 24/7/365 medical care (like a person in a long-term coma)

With that said, let’s see what a GBI can do for all Canadians — and not just the actual recipients of those benefits.


GBI Benefit Number One for Canada and its Provinces:

Saving Provinces and Taxpayers Money

Kick every welfare recipient in Canada off of provincial welfare and provincial disability programmes the moment the GBI comes into effect.

Yes, end provincial welfare and provincial disability programmes completely!

It sounds traumatic, but every province in Canada spends multi-millions (and depending on the size/population of the province) billions on the administrative support (administration buildings, office staff, other personnel, IT costs, security costs, land costs, property management costs, management training/seminars, etc) to pay provincial welfare and provincial disability recipients. This is known as the ‘overhead’ cost of running these programmes, and the gross annual totality of those administrative costs can be more than all of the welfare cheques combined.

For each welfare recipient who gets a $700 monthly welfare cheque, there is obviously a per capita cost for every person receiving a monthly welfare cheque; There is a person being paid $50,000/yr (or more) to administer a certain number of recipients, there is a building (or buildings) dedicated to that city, town, or region of the province, and there are other costs associated with running provincial social assistance programmes.

Every province has its own welfare and disability administration. That’s overlapping and duplication of services tenfold (10 provinces) and three territories, plus the federal government.

By paying poverty-stricken people via the federal CPP payments system only, the provinces would no longer be obligated to pay provincial welfare or provincial disability payments. At all. Ever.

After the transition period to a pan-Canadian GBI each province could lower the taxes it charges to its residents by a corresponding amount. Some provinces might be able to drop their provincial sales tax in half or better! Other provinces might be able to abolish provincial income tax altogether.

This is especially true if provinces decide to sell-off all the infrastructure associated with welfare and disability payments. Which (land and buildings especially) could net them many billions of dollars.

‘Yi-Haw!’ — said every Canadian premier.

In short, instead of 13 multilayered, overlapping and duplicated provincial and federal income assistance programmes (now that’s approaching communist-era levels of duplication my friend!) there would be one payer of income assistance only — Canada’s federal government — which would be 100% responsible for administrating the GBI programme.

To finance the GBI, the federal government might need to raise the GST rate by 1% (don’t forget that your provincial taxes would be dramatically lowered) or the feds might decide to raise the federal income tax rate by 1% on the richest Canadians instead.

Either way, provincial taxes would fall dramatically, while federal taxes would see a fractional increase.


GBI Benefit Number Two for Canada and its Provinces:

A GBI Would End Homelessness in Canada

Welfare rates in Canada are based on each province’s ability to pay, not on how much it actually costs to feed, clothe, and shelter a human being in that province. Which is why there is homelessness in a rich country like Canada.

The reason there is homelessness in Canada are threefold:

  • A person lives in a city where rents are high and therefore can’t afford to pay rent, nor do they have enough money to be able to afford to move to a rural area where rental rates are a fraction of the lowest rents in Canada’s biggest cities.
  • A person becomes depressed or violent on account of not being able to afford rent, and ends up committing offenses (like sleeping in someone’s backyard, pickup truck box, or dumpster) or commits property crimes (and gets caught and jailed) and subsequently, no one will rent him or her a place.
  • A person is disabled and is unable to afford rent, nor can they move to a cheaper rental market because they need to be close to a hospital, a clinic, or other medical facility. In some cases, it’s that they have enough money for their rent, or their meds, but not both.

A federally funded GBI would pay enough to allow low-income people to pay rent, eat, receive their prescription medications, buy clothing — and yes, unlike provincial welfare schemes — allow them a little extra money so they can purchase work-related clothing, get a haircut and take the bus to work if they land a job.

Not only all that, but many welfare recipients have serious dental problems. If you’re an employer and you have 50 people apply for 1 job opening, are you likely to hire that one guy who is missing his front teeth? Not likely. With a GBI, those people can get their dental work done and appear as presentable as the rest of the job-seekers and have as good a chance to land the job as the other 49 people.

Provincial welfare systems just can’t afford to provide all that, which means that once people get on welfare, they’re often on it for life.

And they can face reductions in their monthly benefit amount if they do earn money. That just doesn’t happen with a GBI.

Indeed, provincial welfare systems can reduce monthly benefits for many reasons, such as more than one person living in a dwelling. In British Columbia for example, the rent portion of the welfare cheque is regulated to $375. per month (not too many places available for rent in BC for $375/month!) but if two people on welfare live together at the same BC address, both will have their monthly welfare cheque reduced. Now you have ‘two upset homeless people’ instead of ‘one homed couple’.

Which directly impacts crime stats. See how that doesn’t work for taxpayers?

Paying people a standardized $1088 per month (no matter how many people live in the same house or apartment as long as all zoning bylaws are met) will allow people to share accommodations — leaving them enough money every month to eat, buy work-related clothing, haircuts, bus passes, etc. and eventually get them back into the workforce.

Hey! Even if they can work part-time that is a benefit to them and to society because it means that eventually they’ll find permanent employment and they won’t need GBI.

That is the ultimate goal of GBI: Temporary assistance to get back to work — instead of welfare for life.


GBI Benefit Number Three for Canada and its Provinces:

Streamlining the Payments System for Canadian Citizens, Refugees and Economic Migrants

Some poverty-stricken refugees and economic migrants to Canada receive higher amounts of assistance from the federal government than poverty-stricken Canadians.

For instance, some Syrian refugees are receiving $2600 per month from the federal government — that’s per family member!

So, a Syrian refugee family of five receives $13,000 per month no matter where they live in Canada, while a poverty-stricken Canadian-born family of five might receive $1600 per month (or less!) depending on the province in which they reside.

Is that right? Is that how generous Canada is to refugees, but not to its own citizens?

It’s an honourable thing for Canada to accept refugees from war-torn countries and help them to establish a new life here. But isn’t that a little extravagant?

Shouldn’t refugees and economic migrants to Canada as well as Canadian-born adult citizens who earn less than the poverty line amount and Canada’s senior citizens all receive the same level of benefit?

The GBI would pay the same amount to everyone without any reductions in the monthly benefit amount for those who share accommodations, for those who earn money up to the poverty line amount, nor reductions for any other reason, except to pay fines as adjudicated by the courts like vehicle fines or alimony payments, etc.

In this way, every adult who earns less than the official poverty line amount would receive the same monthly benefit amount instead of wildly different amounts. Doesn’t that seem more fair?

Isn’t that a better way to treat citizens and immigrants than the various overlapping and duplicated payments systems? Of course it is.


GBI Benefit Number Four for Canada and its Provinces:

Treating Canada’s Senior Citizens Better

Under the existing CPP and OAS system, some of Canada’s senior citizens receive small amounts of money to live on.

Let’s look at a comparison of a Canadian-born senior citizen couple vs. a Syrian-born refugee couple, both couples reside in Canada.

a) The Canadian-born senior citizen couple may receive as little as $920 per month, and are allowed to work.
b) The Syrian-born senior citizen refugee couple will receive $2176 per month, and aren’t allowed to work.

It seems unfair in the extreme that the people who built this great country should receive far less reward than recent immigrants, doesn’t it?

Of course, it goes without saying that accepting refugees from war-torn countries is a truly noble thing to do. No true Canadian begrudges law abiding persons a better life here in Canada. The country is practically empty and our cities are just tiny dots in a 9.985 million square kilometre landscape so we’re glad to have them.

And paying them $1088 per month (each adult) along with the other GBI benefits seems reasonable, just like it seems reasonable to pay the same amount to Canadian-born seniors who live under the poverty line.

It’s wrong to pay the people who built this great country into what it is today such pitiful amounts of money (which they paid into the CPP fund their entire working lives) while we pay refugees many times more.

It’s like a scene from The Twilight Zone.

By topping-up the pension amount of Canadian citizens to the $1088/mo GBI amount + the GBI benefits, we can do away with the OAS programme completely, do away with pharmacare for senior citizens, and eliminate other overlapping federal and provincial programmes in place to support seniors.

Getting rid of all these layers of duplication will save various levels of government billions of dollars per year, and put the administration of all citizens who live under the poverty line under one roof, one payments system, and one jurisdiction. And we know that ending government waste, overlapping programmes between the federal and provincial governments, and duplication of services between the provinces will save taxpayers billions of dollars every year!

It’s time to streamline Canada’s income assistance systems, it’s time to top-up the incomes of senior citizens to $1088 per month + benefits, it’s time to pay refugees the same amount as Canadian citizens living under the poverty line would receive, and it’s time to put a stop to the costly multilayered benefit systems in Canada.

A GBI would be less costly for taxpayers, it would reduce homelessness and property crimes, it would streamline the benefits payment system and it would help poverty-stricken senior citizens live healthier lives and reward them in a small way for their contributions to our great land.

The Right Carbon Tax for Canada

by John Brian Shannon

“Canadian business needs a fair, transparent, and proportional carbon tax to spur action towards a cleaner environment.”

Which is not the same statement asCanada must punish Canadian industry so the country can meet it’s COP21 emissions targets.”

See the difference?

Unfortunately, in the rush to meet Canada’s global air quality commitments (admirable) the federal government may have leaned more towards ‘action’ on the carbon file rather than ‘smooth implementation’ of the carbon file (forgivable) and now has at least two provincial premiers questioning the mechanics of the federal carbon tax plan.

In the end, both methods would result in Canada’s emissions targets being met, but one way is complimentary while the other is confrontational.

Which of the two ways exampled above would cause you to want to work with the federal government to reach Canada’s international emissions obligations?


No Need to Reinvent the Wheel – Just Fix the Broken Parts and Carry On

Federal Carbon Taxes: Small business always suffer in these scenarios, while large corporations already have multi-million dollar environmental + energy budgets — which means all that’s required for them to meet upgraded emissions targets is a shift in their budget allocations to meet Canada’s new emissions regulations.

Therefore, for polluters emitting less than one megatonne of CO2 annually, such companies shouldn’t pay any carbon tax until they surpass that limit and thenceforth begin to pay a $40. per tonne carbon tax (for example) on any emissions beyond the one megatonne threshold.

Likewise, large companies shouldn’t be required to pay carbon tax until the point in the year is reached where they surpass the one megatonne limit and only then begin to pay $40. per tonne of CO2 (or CO2 equivalent, because not all airborne emissions are of the CO2 variety) on each additional megatonne for the rest of the calendar year.

In this way, Canada’s carbon tax model would be a breeze to implement, a carbon tax that would be small business-friendly, and one that provides an incentive to bigger companies to work toward reducing their emissions over the longer term.


Carbon Taxes Administered by Provinces and Cities

Provincial carbon taxes: Provincial and city carbon taxes should be ‘flow-through’ carbon taxes where 100% of each dollar collected at the transactional level (a point-of-sale tax like a provincial sales tax) is spent on poverty alleviation, or on energy conservation + investment in green energy projects + green energy bonds. As is already done in some Canadian provinces.

Provinces and cities that face serious air quality problems would be thereby empowered by federal legislation to address their unique air pollution issues and be better positioned to help Canada meet its international emissions targets while lowering their healthcare and environmental spending associated with air pollution.


Annual Step-up Carbon Tax

Start with a low carbon tax: If the ‘year one’ federal carbon tax is set at $40. per tonne, the next year could be set at $50. per tonne, and ‘year three’ $60. per tonne, etc., it would allow Canada to continue to meet its emissions goals and to lower environmental and healthcare spending in Canada where a significant proportion of healthcare budgets are devoted to treat respiratory ailments brought-on or worsened by the poor air quality in Canadian cities (and some high land use agricultural areas) and could actually save provincial budgets millions of dollars per year.

If there’s one thing that markets and big business like, it’s a long lead time for new regulations and a ‘carbon-tax-free-zone’ that they can shoot for which will help them lower costs by increasing efficiency (which is closely tied to productivity, ask any economist) and a step-up carbon tax gives them the opportunity to adjust their operations several years ahead of the time when it could begin to get very costly for them.

Hitting Canadian companies with a $220. per tonne carbon tax (which is what Stanford University says is the true environmental and healthcare cost of each tonne of carbon) would prevent companies from attracting the funding required to lower their emissions.

In a perfect world, legislators would slap a $220. per tonne carbon tax on every level of government, each corporation and on citizens and all of them could afford to pay it. Sadly, that isn’t possible. But starting out at $40. per tonne allows companies to begin the process of lowering their emissions without stressing corporate finances.

If you doubt how costly pollution is to the economy, see the landmark study from Harvard Medicine which estimates coal-burning alone costs the U.S. economy between $330 billion and $500 billion per year.


The Need to Address Carbon Pollution

It’s indisputable to any educated person that Canada and every other country needs to address carbon pollution — but ultimately, carbon taxes must be designed to mesh with the overall economy — not entangle it.



Visit The Solutions Project to see how renewable energy can work in your jurisdiction to help citizens live healthier lives, care for the environment, boost the economy and help Canada meet its international air pollution targets.

Images below are courtesy of The Solutions Project

Our 100% Clean Energy Vision for Canada - The Solutions Project. Image 1.

Our 100% Clean Energy Vision for Canada – The Solutions Project. Image 1. Click on image to expand it via your browser tools.

Our 100% Clean Energy Vision for Canada - The Solutions Project. Image 2.

Our 100% Clean Energy Vision for Canada – The Solutions Project. Image 2. Click on image to expand it via your browser tools.

Our 100% Clean Energy Vision for Canada - The Solutions Project. Image 3.

Our 100% Clean Energy Vision for Canada – The Solutions Project. Image 3. Click on image to expand it via your browser tools.

Visit The Solutions Project main webpage here for more information.



Bonus Graphic courtesy of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers

 

While the federal government of Canada seeks to meet its international emissions targets, Canadian premiers press for a more business-friendly carbon tax regime.

While the federal government of Canada seeks to meet its international emissions targets, Canadian premiers press for a more business-friendly carbon tax regime. Image courtesy of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers. Click on image to expand it in your browser.

Why Canada’s Kinder Morgan Pipeline Purchase Works for Canada

by John Brian Shannon

Let’s get one thing out of the way, right now. Much earlier in Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s tenure he should’ve solved the entire Kinder Morgan pipeline situation — and the same is true for former Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Allowing the situation to drag on for so long that two western premiers got into a trade spat, and Canada looked to foreign investors like a country that doesn’t have its act together, hasn’t served the country well.

It’s likely that billions of dollars of foreign investment simply bypassed Canada since 2000 due to the way the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion (TMX Expansion) proposed by Kinder Morgan has been mishandled by the various levels of government in Canada. That missed foreign direct investment (FDI) is gone, never to return.

PM Justin Trudeau scores a win for Canada by nationalizing the Kinder Morgan pipeline project that will run from the Alberta oil sands to Burnaby, British Columbia.

PM Justin Trudeau scores a win for Canada by nationalizing the Kinder Morgan pipeline project that will run from Edmonton, Alberta to Burnaby, British Columbia. Image courtesy of the Natural Resources Canada website.


The Government of Canada Buys a Pipeline Project…

To solve the entire problem (which will likely usher in an entirely new set of problems) PM Justin Trudeau announced on May 29 that the government of Canada will purchase Kinder Morgan’s TMX Expansion project which is one way to change the conversation around this entirely needless, Canadian own-goal fiasco.

Nevertheless, let’s give credit where credit is due! It’s much better that Trudeau (better late than never) decided to take a leadership role on the energy file. Congrats!


…and Plans to Sell it

Which is a great idea! Buy the project with intent to eventually sell it to a pipeline company, an investor group (pension plans love pipelines and other critical infrastructure) or to another level of government. “Hey Alberta! Wanna buy a pipeline?”

Even Kinder Morgan, conceivably, could decide to purchase the TMX pipeline once it is up and running.

Or, (best-case scenario, IMHO) it could be sold off in an IPO where the entire pipeline is sold as a going concern — and although that probably represents the longest-term plan — it’s probably the plan that would net the highest return on Canada’s investment.


Other Options that Should Have Been Considered

Oil and dilbit (dilbit is tar sand material that is mixed with a light petroleum liquid called ‘diluent’ to make it easier to move) can also be moved by rail instead of by pipeline.

Moving oil and dilbit via rail has some significant advantages.

One, in the case of an oil spill, pipeline spills average around 1 million barrels (yes, barrels) while rail tanker oil spills tend to range around 264,000 gallons (yes, gallons) of oil. It’s a huge difference, to put it mildly.

Each DOT-111 rail tanker carries up to 220,000 gallons of oil, and in the case of accident with a resultant spill, typically it is one or two rail tankers that spill onto the railbed and immediate area (usually a service road that is accessible by emergency vehicles) making a quick response easier by orders of magnitude.

Note: DOT-111 rail tankers are being retired later in 2018 and replaced by the much higher safety standard TC-117 tankers.

Also, the rail lines travel directly from Edmonton to the Burnaby oil refinery that is presently the terminus for the TMX pipeline. It doesn’t get any more convenient than that!

The one advantage that pipelines have over rail tankers is the price. Shipping oil by rail is slightly more expensive.

Finally, both pipeline operators and rail companies can suffer labour disruptions (workers go on strike in both segments of the economy) which can result in late deliveries of oil to the refinery. Although, when a refinery has both pipeline and rail access, if one goes on strike the other simply ramps-up their deliveries.


How Justin Trudeau Could Score a Win with Environmentalists

The federal government should take this opportunity to implement a new tax of 6-cents per barrel on all liquids that move through pipelines to cover future oil spill cleanup and land remediation.

Six cents per barrel is practically nothing. But over many years and with that pool of money invested in the stock market, a sizeable fund would accrue that could be used to ensure that future oil spills would be 100% fully cleaned-up and adjacent land remediated to its pre-oil spill state.

Rail companies don’t need such a tax as rail oil spills are infinitesimally smaller and easier to clean-up than pipeline spills.


How Justin Trudeau Could Score an Even Better Win

Every federal regulator in North America should create legislation to streamline new energy infrastructure approvals in exchange for higher environmental standards.

Any pipeline company (for example) that wants to build a new pipeline (of say, 1000 kilometres in length) should submit with their application to the relevant energy regulator, a plan to decommission and remediate 1000 kilometres of land where their obsolete pipelines (some with ‘abandoned oil’ still in them) are leaking or pose a risk to leak with only a few more years of rust eating away at the steel pipe or the gaskets and seals at junctions along the length of the pipeline.

A new ‘Mile for Mile New Build/Old Pipeline Decommissioning Programme’ would solve at least half of all the small oil spills in Canada when measured over the next 22-years.

Background:

Everyone in the oil business knows that the best years in a pipeline’s life are the first 15-years. New pipelines are hundreds of times safer than the pipelines of old and are built with sophisticated technology to monitor oil pressure and to detect spills that may be in progress.

North America’s hundreds of thousands of miles of oil and gas pipelines are more than 40-years old on average! That’s a stat that should terrify environmentalists, yet because it isn’t a ‘sexy’ topic for them those abandoned pipelines don’t get the negative attention they deserve. Which is a shame.

If legislation requiring dismantlement of unused or abandoned pipelines and land remediation on a ‘mile for mile’ basis were created, pipeline companies would become ‘part of the solution instead of part of the problem’ and would be perceived more positively by environmentalists and non-environmentalists alike.

According to the National Resources Canada website, at present there are 840,000 kilometres of oil pipeline in use in Canada, not including branch or service lines. (This number does not include ‘abandoned’ pipelines, nor pipelines that aren’t in active use)


Let’s Look at the Score

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau +.5 (for solving a problem inherited from a previous government)
Premier Rachel Notley +1.0 (for successfully fighting for one of Alberta’s main industries)
Premier John Horgan +.5 (for standing up for BC’ers interests as he sees it)
Kinder Morgan +1.0 (for not overreacting during the entire fiasco)
Canadian media +2.0 (for staying on top of it)
Rail companies +1.0 (for staying out of it — but they lost a point for not enthusiastically offering their better solution to the media)
Environmentalists +.5 (for fighting for what they think is right — but points-off for not recognizing that new pipelines are infinitely safer than old pipelines and for not shining more light on the dismantlement of, and land remediation around, leaky old abandoned pipelines)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has the ability to dramatically improve his score by regulating a 6-cents per barrel tax on pipelines, and a separate regulation requiring new pipeline applications to offer a ‘Mile for Mile New Build/Old Pipeline Decommissioning Programme’.

Environmentalists could eventually score a +1.0 by supporting a 6-cents per barrel tax on pipelines, and a separate regulation requiring new pipeline applications to offer a ‘Mile for Mile New Build/Old Pipeline Decommissioning Programme’.


Is Canada’s TMX Pipeline Purchase a Winner?

Canada should have no problem selling-off the TMX acquisition once it is completed and moving oil. Practically every pension fund and every other institutional investor will buy shares in the pipeline as they tend to be rock-solid investments with a low-ish, but predictable rate of return.

Within reasonable limits, the longer Canada holds the asset the better the potential return, and as oil prices rise Canada’s return on its investment is likely to improve.

Out of all the bad choices presented to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau he has made the least-bad choice.

Sometimes, that’s all you can do.


For more information on the TMX Expansion project, please visit the government’s informative National Resources Canada webpage here.