A leadership hopeful for the NDP Party of Saskatchewan, Dr. Ryan Meili, says it’s time for Saskatchewan to “take the leap” and support a basic income guarantee.
Meili, who recently won a Saskatoon-area by-election for the NDP and is now a Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA), is also a medical doctor in Saskatoon. In addition, he is the founder of a progressive movement called ‘Upstream.’ While he is no longer affiliated with the non-partisan Upstream, the core tenets of the movement still inform his stance on the issues.
This includes more upstream thinking on matters of public health policy, recognizing that health is largely a result of the living conditions in which people find themselves and can therefore be improved with better policy decisions.
Perhaps the most important of these social determinants of health is income and income distribution, which is why Meili supports a basic income.
“I would like to see basic income achieved, whether that’s on our own (in Saskatchewan) or with federal involvement. The bottom line is I think it’s time for one province to truly take the leap in implementing a basic income,” says Meili.
While he is happy that Ontario is running a pilot on basic income and that British Columbia and Prince Edward Island have also expressed strong interest, he believes it’s time to bypass testing and just get it done.
“Basic income is a significant change in how we approach income assistance. The punitive claw backs that we build in for our current social assistance programs creates welfare walls,” he says.
Meili says what he likes about basic income compared to other potential ways to ensure adequate income for people is that it provides enough to live on and “frees people from the drama and serial crises” which characterizes people’s attempts to live below the poverty line.
“Some will always need this assistance but many, many more will be able to seek better jobs and education because of it and not need it in the future at all,” he says.
Meili says he doesn’t think that means getting rid of other social supports, beyond welfare assistance.
“We need to be smart and not commodify everything, just because we’re cutting bigger cheques” to individuals, he says.
The doctor says he can see how basic income will be of great help to the many people who are mired in precarious work, something he describes as a “significant workforce trend.”
He says this has to happen in concert with decent wages and good collective bargaining, which is why he applauds the Ontario and Alberta governments for pushing minimum wage up to $15 an hour in the coming months.
“That will improve both people’s health and wages — and studies show that it doesn’t have a significant impact on businesses” in the long run, he adds.
In a by-election held earlier this spring, Meili took 54.2 per cent of the vote in the riding of Saskatoon-Meewason. The Saskatchewan Party candidate placed second with 39.9 per cent. Meili also announced he will run for the NDP’s top job next May. This will be his third attempt to lead the NDP but his first time doing it as an MLA. In 2013, he lost the last leadership race by a mere 44 votes on the second ballot.
The doctor and MLA says the right-wing Saskatchewan Party led by Brad Wall is in full “austerity mode” as they try to cope with a ballooning deficit.
“But instead of preserving investments in health and education and all the other things that help people weather an economic downturn, they’re cutting deeply,” he says.
Meili says that the Wall government is instead cutting both corporate income taxes and the income tax levels for the highest earners in the province.
“We know this is the wrong approach because we’ve seen how it fails time and again from other governments,” says Meili.