Senator Paula Simons in Canada responds to the disinformation surrounding Bill S-233 for a basic income framework

Senator Paula Simons, Canada

Senator Simons who was appointed to the Senate of Canada in 2018, after a long and distinguished career as one of western Canada’s most acclaimed journalists defends basic income framework.

See original post here.

Honourable senators, I rise today to speak to Bill S-233, An Act to develop a national framework for a guaranteed livable basic income. Rather, I rise today to speak to the viral misinformation and disinformation about this bill and to confront some of the near delusional paranoia circulating on social media about it.

For weeks, our Senate email and voice mail boxes have been overwhelmed by thousands of messages from angry, frightened Canadians outraged by Bill S-233, or at least by the lies they have been told about Bill S-233. There are so many desperate letters sent to us by people who have been manipulated and terrified into believing outrageous conspiracy theories. There are letters from people who believe Bill S-233 to be a fascist plot, a communist plot, a Masonic plot, a eugenics plot, a Jewish plot, a plot by the World Economic Forum or the World Health Organization, a sinister scheme orchestrated by — your choice — Klaus Schwab, George Soros or Bill Gates, or the ever‑popular illuminati. Many believe Bill S-233 to be the first step on the path to one-world government, or the new world order or to a system of state social surveillance, such as the one the Chinese government in Beijing calls “social credit.” Others are convinced the bill contains provisions for digital ID or digital currency that will allow the government to track and control us all.

This, my friends, is no accident. I believe there is an organized campaign afoot to spread destructive propaganda about Bill S-233, targeted online fear mongering specifically designed to terrorize frightened seniors and those with disabilities and to scare vulnerable Canadians into believing their pensions and disability benefits are about to disappear. It is a campaign purpose-built to erode public trust, not just in this government but in Canadian democracy itself.

Take this tweet posted on March 11 by Peter Taras, a former Ontario candidate for the People’s Party of Canada:

Bill S-233 is currently waiting for third reading in the SENATE, if passed it will be made law which means if you are not vaccinated you will not receive EI, CPP, OHS, Social Services or Pension that YOU PAID INTO.

That post alone has been retweeted almost a thousand times, and pretty much every single word of it is untrue.

Bill S-233 is not a government bill. It is not at third reading. And even if we were to pass it, we all know it would not become law, not right away. It would be sent to the other place for more debate and study.

This bill absolutely does not make the payment of a guaranteed basic income contingent on your vaccination status. Indeed, under the terms of Senator Pate’s proposal, there would be no such type of social-virtue testing or qualification for the receipt of such an income at all. Nor would a basic income take the place of Employment Insurance, workers’ compensation insurance, the Canada Pension Plan, or any other company or private pension.

Even if we passed Bill S-233, it wouldn’t create a guaranteed basic income.

All the bill really does is call upon the government to consider how it might create a framework for how a possible future guaranteed basic income program might work. Nonetheless, Twitter and Facebook and Reddit and YouTube are filled with posts that repeat word for word the same falsehoods as the tweet I just read you.

Many of the letters and phone calls we’ve received go much further than fears about pensions. Some express concern that once Canadians become dependent on a guaranteed basic income, the government would be able to leverage that dependency to force people to conform. For example, here is an extended excerpt from an email I received on March 16:

I suspect that ‘a guaranteed livable basic income’ creates a dependency upon government and lays down a foundation for creating digital identities tied to bank accounts and all other government agencies, both federal and provincial. Over time, abusive, controlling powers would be assumed and invoked by dictatorial means. We would then be locked into a social credit system that is fascist, communistic and totalitarian, thereby erasing the standards of democracy, our Constitution, the Rule of Law, and our guaranteed Rights and Freedoms.

An email from March 23 mined a similar vein:

There will be more vaccines to take and other medical procedures the gov[ernment] wants you to undergo! If you don’t comply with just one of them, your account will be closed and you won’t be able to buy food! You won’t be able to do anything! Not even work.

One recent email suggested Bill S-233 was part of what it called:

. . . the sinister plan for humanity under a New World Order and One World Government, starting with John D Rockefeller’s Masonic Creed.

The letter went on to link Bill S-233 to a long-term, worldwide plot that included the assassinations of Martin Luther King and John F. Kennedy.

Other messages link Bill S-233 with transhumanism, a concern which is not, as I had first assumed, about gender identity but about an alleged plot to turn us all into bionic cyborgs. One said:

The Transhumanist war has begun . . . .We are now experiencing the long awaited planning of the sociopathic elite, as Klaus Schwab unleashes a world domination plan with the intent of changing the face of humanity forever.

Another correspondent wrote:

Bill S-233 is just the beginning. We are losing our freedoms to a group of elites that want to depopulate and control mankind, enslave us to experimental transhumanism, and the removal of any Christian and Godly devotions.

A common theme that runs through many letters is a persistent paranoia about the World Economic Forum, a belief that Justin Trudeau and Chrystia Freeland are subject to the control of German-Swiss economist Klaus Schwab. Many seem to believe that Schwab’s agents have infiltrated the government and that Schwab, who is best known for throwing parties for plutocrats in Davos, is somehow simultaneously both a communist and a Nazi.

This excerpt from a letter I received March 10 is pretty typical:

Nobody voted for Nazi Klaus Schwab. Nobody even knew he existed 2 years ago. He has NOTHING to do with Canada or any other country. Schwab holds a statue of Lenin in his office! This is NOT CANADA. We are NOT going BACK to NAZI GERMANY. Please see NUREMBERG CODE & TRIALS.

Other letters accuse senators and the Senate of outright treason. An email I received March 6 stated:

This is CANADA . . . not North Korea, not Russia, you are employees of the people! NOT EMPLOYEES OF THE WEF OR THE WHO.

Just this afternoon — we probably all received the same email — was a letter that claimed the adoption of a guaranteed basic income would lead to the forced sterilization of Canadians of child-bearing age and the killing off of the elderly and the disabled.

I must say that many other letters are not from conspiracy theorists or anti-vaxxers at all. They are simply and heartbreakingly heartfelt notes from ordinary Canadian seniors and relatives of seniors who truly believe that this bill will steal their CPP and private pensions.

As senators, we’re all used to receiving angry letters and calls, but this campaign is qualitatively different. Three years ago my inbox was full of very angry mail about Bill C-69 and Bill C-48, but even when some of those concerns were hyperbolic and exaggerated, they were based on fact and on the actual content of those bills. The campaign against Bill S-233 is something entirely different. It is a shadow war concocted and orchestrated to protest something that doesn’t even exist.

Some of you may worry that by reading these letters into Hansard I’m giving these theories undeserved attention, but we cannot ignore the elephant in the room. We must call out these myths and lies. Let us be clear: There is nothing in Bill S-233 that would require any Canadian to be vaccinated or medicated. There is nothing in Bill S-233 that relates to digital ID or digital tracking or digital currency. There is nothing in Bill S-233 that is in any way akin to the Chinese social credit surveillance model.

Senator Kim Pate, who has spent her entire adult life advocating for the civil rights of the vulnerable, the marginalized and the forgotten, is not an agent of Klaus Schwab. She is not part of the globalist elite nor a Davos hobnobber. As her long record of public service attests, she is the last person who would ever want to see a single Canadian lose a pension or job, and that’s why her bill does nothing of the kind.

I can attest personally that Senator Pate is not hell-bent on turning us all into cybernetic transhumans.

Many of the concerns of our many correspondents are perfectly valid and based in fact. Some have argued that a guaranteed basic income would sap productivity and reward shirkers for doing nothing or lead to labour shortages. You might not agree, but that’s a perfectly rational critique.

Some have argued that Canada’s COVID-battered economy could not afford such a program. I would counter that it is entirely possible that a well-designed program might actually save money, streamlining the number of social welfare support programs we have in this country. But, again, an argument about possible costs is perfectly reasonable.

Some correspondents have raised legitimate questions about the bill, which I happen to share. The bill proposes to extend a guaranteed basic income to those 17 and up, and while I understand the logic of supporting emancipated teens or teens who have fled abusive families, most 17-year-olds don’t need a basic income. Nor can I agree with Senator Pate’s proposition to pay a guaranteed basic income to non-Canadians, such as temporary foreign workers. I have my own constitutional concerns as an Albertan about setting up such a federal income framework without the full cooperation, support and buy-in of the provinces, territories and First Nations.

We also need to be mindful of inflationary pressures that a basic income might create, especially in overheated rental markets such as in Vancouver and Toronto.

So yes, it is perfectly possible to have a good faith, rational debate about the pros and cons of a universal basic income, and the pros and cons of Senator Pate’s particular suggested model.

But it is next to impossible to have that debate while Canadian citizens, especially seniors and those with disabilities, are being subjected to a relentless campaign of online psychological terrorism.

I have tried to use Twitter and Facebook to dispel the myths about this bill. I have tried to answer letters from people who just seem honestly confused. One woman I will call Missy was so frightened by what she had heard about Bill S-233 that she told me she was thinking of leaving Canada. After I explained what Bill S-233 actually said, she thanked me.

She wrote back:

You have truly helped me. I will do my best to spread what you have told me. It’s scary, how convincing this can be. I admit I fell for it, and fed into it at time.

She added, “It’s scary to live in fear every day.”

And that, of course, is the point of this whole disinformation campaign: to create fear and distrust; to keep people scared and vulnerable; to erode our social contract, the social fabric and our confidence in our fellow Canadians, replacing it with suspicion bordering on paranoia.

The purpose of this strategy isn’t to defeat Bill S-233, which has only the smallest chance of becoming a law anyway; no, it’s to whip up a hysterical frenzy to convince ordinary Canadians — decent, caring Canadians like Missy — that their political leaders and their political institutions are not to be trusted and then to trick and con ordinary, caring people just like Missy into sharing this fake information with their families, faith communities or their friends on Facebook.

Rebutting such insidious campaigns is not easy. Although I did connect with Missy, I had less luck with a more recent correspondent. She wrote to me this weekend that she could not sleep over her fears that Canadian seniors would lose their pensions. When I tried to explain that Bill S-233 just wouldn’t do that, she accused me of gaslighting her and demanded that I never contact her again.

In her excellent essay published recently by “The Line,” Conservative strategist Melanie Paradis coined a perfect phrase for those corrosive disinformation campaigns: she called them “thought scams.” She likened them to those Nigerian prince letters we all used to get that tried to con us out of our money. But these “thought scammers” aren’t primarily interested in getting rich. Instead, they are interested in stealing our faith and our trust. They are interested in stealing our Canada.

If we, too, fall prey — if we start demonizing our political opponents, portraying them as treasonous and corrupt — then we forfeit our ability as senators to have any good faith debates over vital public policy questions.

Today, my friends, I am asking you to join me in standing up to the “thought scammers.” I ask you not to give a wink, a shrug or a smirk when you see one of these “thought scams” spreading because you think it might help your side or your team in the short term. I ask all of us here to stand united today, not in full‑throated support of Bill S-233 but in united support of truth, reason and Canadian democracy itself. We in the Senate of Canada must stand as a bulwark against the tide of lies. We can and we must, my friends.

Thank you, hiy hiy.The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore [ + ]Hon. Stan Kutcher [ + ]


Thank you very much, Senator Kutcher. As a child of the Cold War, it seems strange to stand in the Senate of Canada and talk about Russian plots. It seems like something from a Cold War movie. I wouldn’t have thought that it was plausible until we saw the reporting in the United States about Russian actors manipulating Facebook to create mob mentalities, creating both fake Republican pages and fake Democrat pages and then setting the pages against each other.

So it’s incumbent upon us, first of all, as citizens — all of us, not just senators — to practise what I call “social media hygiene.” Don’t share something if you don’t know where it’s from or what it is. The more outrageous and anger-provoking the post, the less likely it is to be true.

I have sometimes seen people retweeting stuff they know is nonsense ironically or to call it out. Don’t do that because when you share things and interact with them, the algorithm doesn’t know you are “hate-sharing.” The algorithm just thinks, “Oh, people want to see that.” So be careful in how you use social media. We talk about safe sex. Well, practise safe tweeting.

It’s also incumbent upon us — in an age in which so many people get their information filtered through social media platforms — to think about what the correct responsibility of those platforms should be and what our responsibility should be as legislators to ensure that — not that we’re censoring debate — we’re providing some kind of filter for the information so that all of the lies do not get the algorithmic juice to rise to the top.

I think it’s fair to ask the major platforms, whether that’s Twitter, Facebook, YouTube or all the new ones that come along, what their protocols are to guard against malicious campaigns by foreign actors that are clearly designed to poison democratic debate in Western democracies.

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