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The problems of establishing a Guaranteed Livable Income organization in Toronto.

This is a piece I wrote to go with theweb page for the event I am working to build.

April 23, 2016

If you have read the paper of December 20, on the whys and wherefores of planning a debate on the center left objections to a Basic Income/GLI, you will notice that this did not happen by March of this year, as dreamed of. The experiences of trying to get such a project going in Toronto are worth examining.

This does not mean I am giving up on it. It just shows that starting a Toronto GLI movement is as difficult as might be expected from what we know of left politics in Toronto. The experiences of some other left/progressive initiatives, for example Fair Vote Canada, were somewhat similar. Local groups for a BI/GLI are starting to pop up around Toronto, with an especially effective one in the Waterloo area, but Toronto is a dead zone.

the barriers

The experiences of other groups shows that the only way to achieve some success in this objective is with persistence. And of course, the willingness to deal with attempts to isolate, harass, or co-opt the group. People who have become frustrated with the hyper partisan nature of social "activism" in Toronto, especially where it concerns poverty amelioration and elimination, can be drawn into a BI/GLI group. But it is better to draw in fresh blood, who are just becoming interested in active citizenship, and who can learn to do things in a better way.

There is a great tendency for any social movement to be drawn into electoral politics and effectively nullified. The NDP party has always been very good at that, which is why it needs to go the way of the Dodo bird. This tendency is strong in Canada, with its history of paternalism and clientelism, and the single member district system of elections. This is very, very bad in Toronto due to its status as the 'landing pad' for new immigration and the tendencies it brings with it.

Immigrants tend to be focussed on getting established in their new country and unwilling to rock the boat. But many also come with the authoritarian, 'party line' leftism of where they came from, and an inclination to practice it here. Proponents of the more homegrown, 'feel good about yourself' style of participatory activism tend to be repelled by the dynamics this creates.

the need

Yet Toronto is also an intellectual center of the country. Many of its best thinkers live and work here. Many of our most effective social advocacy organizations started here and are still headquartered here. They just work nationally instead of locally. These are potential sources of support and resources. It is worthwhile for a GLI movement such as Basic Income Canada Network to have a presence here.

the FVC example

An example of the way in which political advocacy organizations get screwed up by the Toronto environment is Fair Vote Canada, which promoted the idea of a proportional voting system in Canada. It started out in Toronto. The core founders were hostile to the idea of local chapters and tried to build the group nationally. But finally they had to accept local chapters.

The trouble came when they finally got around to organizing a local Toronto chapter. For awhile, they had trouble getting people to come to their meetings. Then they got the wrong kind of people getting onto their board and they absolutely had not the mental wherewithal to deal with that.

It is quite a long story, but very simply they were put under attack by a group of professional 'activists' sponsored by elements in the Toronto elite who thought the growing support for proportional representation was a threat to their power. They wanted FVC to define their 'ranked ballots' system as a proportional system and start supporting it. This is like declaring a dog to be a cat.

The 'middle mush' people who had come to dominate FVC by then utterly disgraced themselves trying to find some 'middle of the road' compromise with these people. These were the kind of 'soft center' Canadians who would rather cut their own nuts off than put up a fight about anything. This almost sank FVC before some adults took control and gave the 'entryists' trying to neutralize the organization from within, the peremptory boot.

apply the lessons

There are lessons in this for GLI proponents. Those who are more politically aware may notice that the movement for a GLI/BI has its own 'entryist' groups working to turn it their way. These are the libertarians; basically the Koch Brother's acolytes. Their evil and specious ideas will never be supported by the broad public, and if the public comes to associate them with BI/GLI, it will kill hope of achieving one for a generation.

But in order to counter these kinds of people, you really need to draw people of a 'left-progressive' mindset into a movement for a GLI. Here is the message I try to get across to them; that some sort of basic income is inevitable. The post industrial economy will not work any other way. You can have the bad kind, or you can have to good kind that preserves and enlarges basic human rights in the 'end of work' age.

recruiting 'name' talent for my show

This brings me back to where I started, with the need to get these people away from the 'party line push' mentality. I think this is what I ran up against when I started trying to find people who would like to argue left objections to a BI/GLI in order to sharpen up advocates of it.

One very well known advocate and researcher on BI, who is in Toronto for a year, declined out of simple fear of being 'bushwhacked' again. She found that these people were so obsessed about protecting the existing social programs which they worked for that they would say just about anything.

So, I needed some people who were not afraid of bushwhackers. I know one advocate for workers rights who in the past expressed interest in being on such a program. However, she was too busy with the province's reforms to the labor laws.

I tried talking to some of these social progressive think tanks and advocacy groups. One of them, which had publicly expressed some support for a BI, told me they were not presently 'equipped' for that. This was fairly strange; they are a fairly well resourced group and I do not know what sort of equipment they think they lack.

Other groups gave me the "so who are you?" routine. I am just one person out here trying to start something. Does the rest of BICN approve of this. Actually, the rest of BICN includes a couple of directors in the Toronto area. But they are involved in national things, especially the assembly in Winnipeg next month, and do not want to be distracted by anything local.

It would help to get a note from the BICN executive saying they endorse this. But that seems to have to go to a vote. Here is a problem with BICN and most other BI/GLI groups so far; they are obsessed with holding these biennial conventions. They have no bandwidth for anything else. For a year after Montreal I kept getting told, sorry, we are all recovering from that effort. Then, of course, sorry, we are working on the Winnipeg meeting.

breaking out

Well, maybe some politicians would like to come out and do some politicking. I got a reply from senator Eggleton. He seemed a bit annoyed. He wanted to know why BICN was just preaching to the faithful. That is a valid criticism of the BI movement in general, but he did not seem to understand that what I was indeed trying to do with this initiative was to convert some infidels to the faith.

Senator Eggie and a couple of other people expressed similar ideas, that they would prefer to deal with some people with some track record of organizing meetings. Yes, I get politicians telling me all the time that us poor folks have to "organize, organize, organize". But isn't that what I am trying to do and how in hell to we get started and acquire some experience?

As a matter of fact, I do have some experience at organizing meetings. I put together several reasonably successful forums when I lived in Calgary, on provincial social welfare policies of the time. However, what worked then and there does not seem to work in Toronto. People seem so scared of their own asses here.

slight momentum

To sum it up, I am just going to have to keep trying. I have a place I can book without charge. I have a few people expressing some interest, who might like to be MCs or moderators. Someone is putting together a power point presentation and might eventually be ready to show it. I now have a much larger list of contacts. I even have a video camera and might be able to figure out how to record proceedings and loft them into Youtube land.

So now I have booked The Space for May 8th, just before I take the plane to Winnipeg. I am not sure exactly what I will have to put on. Beyond just a 'see who shows up and where they are at', I can present a trial run of the presentation I am preparing for Winnipeg. We can call it a 'strategizing session'.

I have not given up on my idea of a pro and con debate about BI, I have just pushed it back to later in the year. I am going to try and get something together at least every couple of months.

They say that the world is run by those who show up.