Senator Hugh Segal wants to scrap welfare to combat poverty

It's usually those on the left of the political spectrum who tout the policy of a 'guaranteed income.'

Heck, it's in the communist manifesto — isn't it?

Well, now a right-wing politico is promoting the concept.

In the most recent issue of the Literary Issue of Canada, Tory Senator Hugh Segal argues that we should scrap welfare in exchange for a system whereby the federal government 'tops-up' the income of everyone who is beneath the poverty line to the poverty line.

"We spend billions on programs that address dropouts, reduce substance abuse, assist young people in trouble with the law, encourage nutrition, subsidize housing, provide safe houses for the victims of family violence, run the Children’s Aid, realign incentives in the tax system for the working poor, support First Nations education and fund micro-managing welfare systems that do not bring anyone above the poverty line. And yet the [percentage of impoverished Canadians], depending on the province or region, has not changed in decades.

"Let’s look at costs here in a realistic way. If the average top-up per person below the poverty line was $10,000 annually and if all of the three million lowest income people in Canada received the full amount—that would be an upfront cost of $30 billion—roughly 10 percent of the present Canadian federal budget. But that up-front cost would be reduced by savings elsewhere."

Segal argues that most, if not all of the money, could be recouped through cost savings realized in health care (ie: less people getting sick), welfare payments and in the administration of other income supplement programs.

[ Related: Harper’s bid to reform the Senate likely delayed again ]

Segal isn't the only 'righty' to promote the idea.

Former Reform MP — and senior fellow at the Fraser Institute — Herb Grubel recently told the Georgia Straight newspaper the current income assistance programs are "extremely wasteful."

"I would be very happy to get rid of all the bureaucracy and all the vested interests that are now behind the maintenance of the current programs," he said.

It is an interesting idea that probably deserves some debate.

Whether it gets past the public debate stage, however, remains to be seen.

Columnist Barbara Yaffe summarized the policy's prospects in her analysis for the Vancouver Sun:

"Alas, a guaranteed income for Canadians is a lot like getting rid of the Indian Act, simplifying the Tax Code, or abolishing the Senate," she wrote.

"All great ideas that governments never get around to executing."

(Parliament of Canada image)