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B.C. Greens to back guaranteed basic income, says party leader

Sonia Furstenau says Greens still debating details of party election platform, but basic income proposal likely to target three vulnerable groups.
In an interview with Glacier Media, B.C. Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau says she backs a basic income program. - ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST

The Green Party of B.C. will back a plan to roll out a guaranteed basic income across several of the province’s vulnerable populations, the party’s leader said.

The comments came in an interview with Green leader Sonia Furstenau a week after a B.C. study showed a national basic income could generate up to $541 billion in gross domestic product.

The analysis costed out what it described as a “double dividend” — provide people with a basic income so they can weather the impacts of climate change, and tax the biggest polluters as a way to both pay for the program and deter the biggest polluters. 

“There's a significant public appetite for there to be a kind of paying back of what is owed to society by the big polluters, by the oil and gas industry, who have reaped significant wealth and profit at the cost of the stability of our climate,” Furstenau said.  

“It is a policy that has a kind of staying power because there is evidence that it is effective.” 

Furstenau, who has represented the Cowichan Valley since 2017 but plans to run in the NDP-held Victoria-Beacon Hill riding this election, said a basic income should first focus on “poverty elimination” but was hesitant to “predetermine” what form the party’s platform proposal will ultimately take. As the party deliberates, she said the proposal would likely target B.C.’s most vulnerable people.

Glacier Media reached out to all of B.C.’s major political parties asking them whether and how they might support a basic income program.

A spokesperson for the official opposition BC United said its upcoming platform “will focus on unleashing the power of free-enterprise to create jobs, foster innovation and investment and generate new tax revenue to create a more caring, results-focused government.”

“BC United will focus on helping those who need it most by creating an environment where our government gives people a hand-up when they need it, not a hand-out,” said the party's director of communications Adam Wilson in an email. 

Questions posed to the Conservative Party of B.C. and a spokesperson for current BC NDP Premier David Eby were not answered. 

Current system 'traps a lot of people in poverty' 

Wilson cited a January 2021 government-mandated expert panel that concluded universal basic income is not a “just policy option.”

The panel’s 500-plus page report came three years after a Green Party-NDP supply and confidence agreement included a promise by the government of the day to establish a panel looking into the prospect of a basic income. 

Furstenau said that while the results of that panel suggested a universal basic income was not the best path forward for the entire population, it would still work for many low-income and vulnerable people in B.C. 

“It did recommend a basic income for three groups: for people with disabilities, for women fleeing domestic violence, and for youth aging out of care,” said Furstenau. “And so it wasn't a complete rejection of the idea of basic income.”

The Green leader said that for those groups, a basic income would help alleviate some of the government “clawbacks” that prevent people escaping poverty. 

Furstenau said that while things like B.C.’s carbon tax has helped big polluters shoulder some of the cost of climate action, effective carbon pricing should also be backed up with a windfall profits tax, and provisions that ensure more money is flowing back to people who need it most. 

“Our current social services system in B.C. functionally traps a lot of people in poverty,” she said. 

Instead of returning every month, those on social assistance would remain eligible for one to two years, time they could use to find employment or get some education, Furstenau said. 

“What we need to recognize is that people need a level of certainty and security to be able to plan and to be able to see a pathway out of poverty,” she said. 

Amid slip in poles, Greens remain ‘a party of science’ 

The Greens currently hold two seats in the legislature — alongside Furstenau, Adam Olsen holds the riding of Saanich North and the Islands. But the party's popularity appears to have slipped since 2020, when it received 15 per cent of the vote. 

Since then, the Greens have faced their share of controversy. Earlier this year, former deputy leader Dr. Sanjiv Gandhi, who was set to run as a candidate in Vancouver, was dropped for inappropriate social media activity in November 2023.

Gandhi had liked a tweet comparing B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry with Josef Mengele, an infamous Nazi doctor who experimented on concentration camp victims during the Second World War, said Furstenau at the time.

One May 21 poll found 12 per cent of decided voters said they would back the Green Party, a three point slide from last election. That ties them with BC United — the current official opposition who under the BC Liberal brand won four consecutive majorities between 2001 and 2017.

The Research Co. survey found that 42 per cent of decided voters would back the BC NDP, while 32 per cent said they would support the surging Conservative Party of B.C.

An Angus Reid poll released May 31 found only 11 per cent of decided voters would back the B.C. Greens, the lowest support for any of the four major political parties.

With now fewer than five months until the next B.C. election, a seismic shift in provincial politics has overturned popular support on the right. Voter sentiment, polls show, now suggest the current NDP government is only slightly ahead of the Conservatives — a party whose leader has consistently repeated false statements around climate change. 

What role does Furstenau see the Greens playing in that political landscape? The same as it always has, she said: pursue solutions to crises that are “rooted in science and evidence.” 

Green leader expects clash over climate science

Earlier this month, Conservative Party of B.C. leader John Rustad told the Globe and Mail that the science around human-caused climate change is an unproven “theory” and “not even a crisis.” That position, which got Rustad kicked out of BC United two years ago, is also widely at odds with global scientific consensus.

In its 2023 global review of existing evidence, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) — considered the gold-standard of existing climate science — found “human activities, principally through emissions of greenhouse gases, have unequivocally caused global warming.”

The IPCC group of scientists stated they have “high confidence” human-caused climate change “is already affecting many weather and climate extremes in every region across the globe” and that vulnerable communities are being hit the hardest. 

“There is a rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all (very high confidence),” begins a nearly 40-page summary of the latest climate science.

Furstenau said challenging political opponents who deny established science will remain a key priority for the Green Party. Doing so is especially important when three years ago, a record heat dome made 150 times more likely due to human-caused climate change killed 619 people in B.C., she said.

“We lost hundreds of lives in 2021 to the heat dome. And what John Rustad is saying is not going to prepare for that kind of event.”

With files from the Canadian Press