Don't Forget Evelyn, or Basic Income Canada Network

Before I finish writing about this conference and all its presenters, I cannot Forget Evelyn. At the last BIEN Canada conference in Ottawa in 2009, her presentation was the star of the show.

Here, there are many other stars shining and she does not have much that is new since two and a half years back. She is still plugging away at analysing all this data that had been sitting around since 1978.

I will not review the whole Manitoba mincome experiment here. Basically we had a Basic Income experiment in some areas of Manitoba and it showed very positive results until it was killed prematurely and the data lost for awhile until Doctor Forget found it and went to work.

Basically, every possible positive indicator improved when every one in the town of Dauphin got a Basic Income for four years; hospital admissions, school leavings, arrests, etc. Men even started working longer hours and making more money per hour. Women worked a little less and also made more money.

The thing about it that critics did not like was that that the divorce rate went up and the birth rate went down.

Lately Evelyn has been doing "propensity matching", meaning comparing recipients to controls who did not receive the income. In Dauphin, social outcomes were slightly worse that the Manitoba average. After mincome, they were better. Older women seemed to especially benefit, at a time when there was no pension plan.

Fitting with the pattern of people being able to negotiate from a stronger position with employers, women were able to get better maternity leave.

Evelyn took some questions. I asked my only question of the conference; what would be different if another mincome experiment were held now? She did not answer it, but it was not a really good question. I think somebody might have asked a similar question earlier while I was outside.

What I really should have asked was; what are the prospects of another mincome experiment? I think some other people were having similar ideas.

Post conference meeting of Basic Income Canada network

Now, I return to the finale of this show, a meeting of Canadian BI activists, which I had been waiting for with increasing discomfort. The organisers waited until after senator Eggie had finished and then decided we should all just meet at the back of the rumble cavern. That did not go over well.

So we went upstairs and sat in the student lounge for a little while. Then the security concierge came up and told us that this was for the students and we should go into the class room we had booked for it. It seems the problem was that somebody does not like holding meetings in classrooms; thinks everyone should be in a circle facing each other.

But it was not hard to rearrange the tables in that room so we were facing each other, not the front. Someone said that the founding meeting of occupy Toronto was held in the same room. So, we finally got a meeting organized to discuss how to organize a mighty social movement to bring about the greatest social revolution since.. what?

There were eventually about thirty people there as more people learned where we had gone. They included the inevitable shmook from the monetary reform crowd, but he was encouraged to keep his yap shut. As I told those assembled during the introductions go around, I have been trying to promote the idea of a Basic Income or Guaranteed Income for over thirty years and I get a bit cynical.

I have seen various groups start up and get taken over by people who have some different objective, and they disappear. The worst are the monetary reform crowd, who seem to think Basic Income is a rerun of the old Social Credit "social dividend" thing, and therefore their turf. Usually all they want to talk about is the latest libertarian type scheme to finance government without taxes, and have no interest at all it the social aims of Basic Income.

BIEN Canada started out in Ireland in 2008 when some Canadians who attended the BIEN world congress in that country that year, decided to start a Canadian version. They presented at the "Canada Social Forum" in Calgary later that year. They organized the Ottawa conference of the following year but then largely disappeared.

Karl Widerquist has been working in Ottawa and kept a simple web site going. Somebody had taken over an old organization, National Anti Poverty Organization (NAPO) and without any mandate turned it into "Canada Without Poverty" and made it his personal vehicle. He was part of the founding group of BIEN Canada and wanted to roll it into his personal domain, too.

NAPO cum CWP held some meetings and had some money to fly people in from across the country. Cindy from Victoria attended one but I understand she was not impressed. They organized some nation wide phone conferences which I participated in. I was an impediment to moving the discussions away from Basic Income, so soon I could not find out when the next teleconferences were.

BIEN Canada managed to host the North American conference of Basic Income in Montreal with the help of this well organized Quebec group that generally does not connect with English Canada. Somehow a troika of Karl Widerquist, Jim Mulvale, and Chandra Pasma were able to pull this event together in Toronto.

The Canada Without Poverty types did not show up. If there was a Canada without so many professional activists and political apparatchiks, there would be an effective movement for a Basic Income a lot sooner.

The first thing we all agreed was to stay in touch by e-mail. Should someone start up an e-mail list? Everybody looked at each other for a bit. Then I tore a leaf out of my much used notebook, wrote my e-dress on it, and handed it to the right.

Awhile later it arrived back at me from the left, filed with hand written e-mails. I sent it back around the table to Mulvale. It seems like he is the convenor for this group despite living in Saskatchewan.

What does this group have to do, anyway? Well, there has been an understanding with the American Basic Income Guarantee group that we will alternate years at holding a North American meeting. The Americans at the conference were meeting somewhere else in the building. They will hold next year's conference somewhere in the U.S. and we will be responsible for 2014 again.

Karl pitches us with the idea of hosting the BIEN world congress which is held every other year in a different country. He says it is not much more difficult that what BIEN Canada has just pulled off.

Someone thinks we should find a better building to hold it in than awful OISE. Someone replies that the reason so many conferences are held at OISE is because it is the only place in Toronto you can get space at a reasonable rate.

Finally Mulvale presents the following outline of a plan.

1. Develop a list of members, or rather, people who want to be members.

2. Somehow convene a board meeting, perhaps by teleconference.

3. It must be a Canada wide network.

4. It is not a good idea to incorporate at present.

5. Figure out how to get some money. There is not much of it at present.

With no other formal structure to the meeting, we got into some brainstorming about how to proceed beyond this. There were some smart people there and some suggested a focus on building up a membership base. I agree strongly with that.

Someone else there was, like me, also a member of Fair Vote Canada and spoke of that groups success in bringing its issue of voting reform into political discourse. He believes that the key was in not deciding priorities from the start; especially, how much to work with other groups.

Someone decried the BIEN focus on ivory tower research. Widerquist responded that an activist-academic interaction is good to have. But some people want "participatory, community based" research.

There was nowhere near enough time to get anywhere. We would need many meetings to work all this out. Some people were already starting to leave; they had planes to catch. Others, like me, had been there all day and were just tired.

The meeting wrapped up with yet another plea to send writing to BI news.

So, I spent three days filling up a double notebook and now I am about to end three days of pouring it all into my old word processor and blasting it into cyber space. I know at least one person is enjoying it; Cindy the "Liveable Income For Everyone" ( LIFE) gal in Victoria keeps telling me it is great and keep sending it. I wonder if BI news will bite?

As for the prospects of finally founding a Basic Income group in Canada, I do not know whether to dare to be optimistic. When you create an organization, you are dealing with money and power. People will do nasty things to get hold of both. If you do not have the capacity to defend against creepy grabbers of money and power, you should not be doing this kind of thing.

The time really is right for this idea. The question is, is the right leadership there? We shall see.

Now, send this off and enough of BI for now. I think my guts have finally recovered from the artificial food.