Rising costs and basic income for Nunavut's hunters

As the rate of inflation increases and supply chains are disrupted, more and more Canadians are struggling to make ends meet. For those living in Canada’s north, high costs for essential goods have been a reality for far too long. Food and household goods in Nunavut were 2.2 times more expensive than the Canadian average in 2018. In addition, with the median income for Inuit in Inuit Nunangat is less than half the national median income, many Nunavummiut struggle to access affordable, nutritious food. As the cost of living rises, so do the number of people unable to meet their basic needs. Canada needs progressive policies aimed to increase incomes and decrease poverty. But what would these policies even look like and who stands to benefit from them?

Basic income (BI), commonly known as guaranteed basic income, is a guaranteed set income distributed by the government to create an income floor that no one could fall below. Although there are different types of BI programs, they all aim to reduce the potential for people to “slip through the cracks'' and fall below the poverty line. The concept dates back to the 1500’s, when Joannes Vives argued that a guaranteed minimum income would be an effective crime prevention strategy.

There are many who would significantly benefit from BI, but perhaps none more so than those engaged in unpaid labour. In Canada alone, there are many forms of labour that go unpaid (caretaking, volunteering, domestic work, and even sometimes hunting). The unpaid labour market is substantial: that done by women alone is worth over 1/4 of Canada's GDP), yet its workers continue to be undervalued despite their essential contributions to our economy’s functionality and growth.

Despite the growing cost of gas for their snowmobiles and ammunition for their guns, Nunavut’s hunters continue to provide nutrient-dense country food to communities through sharing networks, often without any form of monetary compensation. As Inuit organizations continue to call for hunting to be recognized as a paid profession, their work continues to go largely unpaid. The result is that many hunters need another source of income to offset hunting costs, forcing them to balance a nine-to-five while ensuring there is enough country food available for their community.

A BI program is just one of many ways to support hunters, but it would avoid the tedious bureaucracy that have limited past income programs for hunters. BI would see workers in the unpaid labour market lifted above the poverty line with one fell swoop, including Nunavut’s hunters. As the cost of living continues to climb and more Nunavummiut are struggling to purchase nutritious food for their families, the role of hunters in our communities is becoming more critical. Ultimately, the skilled hunters who provide nutrient-dense country foods in the most food insecure region in the country should not be forced to choose between hunting and living below the poverty line. Whether through a BI program or another type of income program, Nunavut's hunters urgently need support as they help our communities withstand the increasing cost of living.

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