The main theme of this issue is social exclusion and poverty. The supply of good jobs for those with low education is declining. Among men, earnings have polarized. Single parenthood, also on the rise, is creating another dimension of social exclusion. The typical poor are no longer old, but rather families with children, and single-parent families in particular. Experts differ on the causes of these trends, but all agree they are unyielding.
So what can we do? Everyone says upgrade skills, and we must--but that will still leave many excluded. One challenge is to give those born into poor families a chance to qualify for the high-paid, high-skilled jobs. The young, says Tom Kent, must be the federal government's priority. He proposes a system of child-care vouchers, income-contingent loans for post-secondary education, and fully financed comprehensive health services for children. To pay for these programs, Kent would draw on private retirement savings plans and other sources of tax-sheltered income.
Kent was a major architect of the social programs of Liberal governments of an earlier generation. Hugh Segal, policy advisor to recent Conservative governments, takes a more radical view. There is only one policy, Segal argues, that can address the needs of the excluded: the "basic income floor." The principle is simple: in the case of most Canadians, the state does not ask how their income reaches a certain level; it simply taxes it. So when income collapses, the state has no right to cast judgment; it should simply provide a "negative income"--a guaranteed annual income. Segal realizes that such a policy is a radical break from the piecemeal programs of the past, but insists that nothing less can meet the needs of an age in which technology is itself radically transforming many aspects of life.
Inroads co-editor John Richards sounds a cautionary note. It is wrong, he contends, for governments to provide long-term, non-employment income to poor families--because of what that will do to the stability of the family unit. Since men still bear the major responsibility for earning the family income, the immediate effect of a guaranteed annual income would be to devalue the father's role, and lead to more family breakdown. At similar income levels, children growing up in fatherless families do less well at school and are more likely themselves to become single parents. Instead of guaranteeing income, he insists, we should support federal and provincial initiatives to provide earning supplements to poor families.
Inroads 5 featured a roundtable discussion among key players from the then recently defeated Ontario NDP government. To follow up, Inroads invited five leading young voices on the left, Mark Kingwell, Naomi Klein, Irshad Manji, Tom Parkin, and Alexandra...