Floyd Marinescu has never forgotten the fear and frustration of growing up in a home scarred by domestic violence.
“I always dreamed my mother would just leave,” said the 39-year-old Toronto businessman. “But I knew she didn’t have the financial means.”
That’s why Marinescu was so keen to see the results of Ontario’s three-year basic income pilot project, launched in 2017 by the previous Liberal government.
Not only could basic income address poverty, precarious employment and job loss due to automation and globalization, it could level the playing field for women, says the CEO of C4media, an international software publishing and conference company.
When the Ford government pulled the plug on the $150-million experiment in July, claiming jobs — not cash handouts — are the answer, Marinescu was “deeply upset” and determined to change the narrative.
“As Canadian business leaders … we see a guaranteed basic income as a business-friendly approach to address the increasing financial precarity of our citizens and revitalize the economy,” says the letter, co-authored by Paul Valleé of Ottawa-based Pythian, a global data services company with more than 400 employees worldwide.
The province’s basic income pilot project provided low-income individuals in three Ontario communities unconditional cash payments of up to $17,000 a year and $24,000 for couples. Its 4,000 participants will receive their final payment March 31, barely two years into the trial. Surveys to see if the extra money helps improve health, housing and employment outcomes have also been scrapped.
With references to 20 national and international studies, the CEOs argue a basic income is urgently needed to address global structural changes to the economy that are depressing wages, reducing middle-class jobs and stifling Canadian entrepreneurship.
They object to the Ford government’s claim a basic income would be too expensive to expand provincewide and suggest it could easily be funded nationally through a 3-per-cent increase to the GST, a move they say “sounds like a good deal to us.”
“A 3-per-cent increase in the GST could be the backbone of a major economic stimulus while simultaneously ending poverty,” says the letter, addressed to Ford and MacLeod.
The successful entrepreneurs, whose companies each employ between 50 and 600 workers and whose own incomes would put them in the top 1 per cent, say people can’t be productive citizens, let alone create, innovate or build businesses if they can’t put food on the table.
“As business leaders, we see basic income as good economics and enlightened self-interest: it is a pro-growth, pro-business, pro-free-market economic stimulus that will grow the economy and create jobs,” says the letter signed by CEOs such as Michael Tamblyn of Kobo Inc. and James Tonn of Podium Publishing.
Just as automaker Henry Ford paid good wages to his factory workers at the turn of the last century, so they could afford to buy his cars, businesses today need people to have enough money to buy their goods and services, Marinescu said in an interview.
“Being unable to escape poverty even while working is not only inhumane, it’s also a huge opportunity cost for Ontario and Canada’s business,” the letter notes. “Basic income will go right back into local businesses.”
Better than a minimum wage hike or working tax credit, a basic income would also compensate for unpaid forms of work such as caregiving, community services and entrepreneurship, the letter says. And it would support those who want to retrain or move to find work.
Despite low unemployment, the share of low-income jobs in Canada is rising, the letter notes. Most people living in poverty are working, including about two-thirds of participants in the basic income project.
“These are hard-working people and critically, these are your voters,” the business leaders say.
“I hope Progressive Conservatives read the letter and see that (a basic income) is a good thing for the economy, that it is a conservative-leaning approach,” Marinescu said. “It is also an attempt to show the Canadian public the consensus that already exists in the business community.”
With no surveys of business leaders to draw on, Marinescu spent several months after the PC killed the experiment asking CEOs in his own business networks what they thought. About four out of five leaders he contacted were willing to sign the letter, Marinescu said. And those who declined just didn’t know enough about it.
“Very few were philosophically opposed,” he said.
James Tonn, 37, co-founder of Podium Publishing, a fiction audiobook publisher known for discovering The Martian, which turned into a feature film starring Matt Damon, grew up in poverty in York Region. He credits six months of parental leave after the birth of his second child in 2012 for giving him a basic income while he created his highly successful company.
“It allowed me to be with my wife and children and it gave us a financial safety net while I was building my company,” he said.
If the Ford government believes a basic income will discourage work, it should allow the pilot to continue to prove its point, says the letter. If it encourages work, then it is something all political parties should be able to support, the letter adds.
“While other governments all over the world are beginning to design their own programs, ours is already running,” Martinescu and Valleé conclude in their letter. “The results … will inform policy decisions all over the world.”
Laurie Monsebraaten is a Toronto-based reporter covering social justice. Follow her on Twitter: @lmonseb