Hugh Segal

I was sad to learn, via Citizen’s Alliance Newsletter, that Hugh Segal had died.

In his remembrance of Segal, TVO’s Steve Paikin recounts Segal’s focus, after joining the Senate, on Universal Basic Income:

From that Senate perch, Segal championed what became the mission of his lifetime: getting a basic-income program put in place so that Canadians could avoid the stigma of being on welfare and use a non-judgmental hand up to get back on their feet. He made the case most eloquently in his 2019 book Bootstraps Need Boots: One Tory’s Lonely Fight to End Poverty in Canada.

Although he had significant policy disagreements with most Liberals, one of Segal’s best relationships in politics was with Kathleen Wynne. When Ontario’s 25th premier implemented a basic-income pilot program in three cities, no one sang her praises more enthusiastically than Segal, who played a significant advisory role in getting the government there.

Segal’s loyal Tory core was shaken to its foundations when Doug Ford came into office in 2018: one of the first things the new premier did was cancel that program in its infancy, rather than waiting until the end of its trial period to judge its effectiveness. Segal didn’t need a reason to dislike Ford’s brand of obnoxious populism, but cancelling the basic-income pilot for reasons that made little sense was a bitter pill for him to swallow.

However, when I asked Segal about the program’s cancellation, he was not mired in despair. “This is the nature of politics,” he allowed. “Two steps forward, one step back. We’ll just keep at it and continue to try to roll the boulder up the mountain.” Again, the happy warrior.

Hugh Segal visited Charlottetown in October 2019 to speak about Universal Basic Income, and he was a convincing warrior in that fight: engaging, sharp, prepared for any rebuttal. I had a brief email exchange with him in the days following, about the portability of such a program. Because social and disability assistance are provincial responsibilities in Canada, people receiving assistance are effectively held hostage to their province of residence, with the high mountain of re-establishing eligibility in a new province presenting an impediment to the inter-provincial mobility guaranteed in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms otherwise. Segal’s reply was optimistic:

The present federal Guaranteed Income Supplement for seniors began in Ontario in 1975 as the provincial Guaranteed Annual Income Supplement (GAINS) for people over 65. Over time, the federal government made it a national programme (GIS). I am confident that once one province launches the Basic Income, the migration to a national programme will be unavoidable, and transpire relatively quickly.

Welfare reform, along with disability support is inevitable. My goal has always been to promote Basic Income as a rational, humane, efficient and constructive way to invest in both a productive economic mainstream that values inclusion, personal dignity and reduces poverty with all its negative pathologies.

I am hopeful that Segal’s mantle will be assumed by others, and that we will realize the dream of a federal, portable Universal Basic Income for all Canadians soon. When this happens, we’ll all owe a great debt to him.