Canada is taking measures to face the Covid-19 pandemic. The situation requires, together with radical and fast actions in medical terms, radical and fast actions in economic and social terms.
The introduction of a Basic Income has been a topic for years in Canad,a and with the current crisis it is showing even more its future possible benefits.
On the 18 March the Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, announced the federal response to the crisis: a $82 billion relief plan which allocates $27 billion in direct support and $55 billion to help businesses liquidity through tax deferrals. So far, the Opposition parties have been supportive, especially the New Democratic Party which is pushing the Government for more generous and comprehensive measures.
The Canada’s Covid-19 Economic Response Plan includes a temporary boost to Canada’s Child Benefit payments, a new emergency Care Benefit to provide income support to workers, the Canada emergency response Benefit (CERB) and other targeted measures. The CERB is a monthly payment of 2000$ a month for a period of 4 months that will go to any worker who earned at least 5000$ in the past 12 months and has suddenly lost their job as a result of the pandemic. The Government has estimated that more than 2 million Canadians will receive a temporary Basic Income through the CERB. Understandably, Basic Income advocates have stressed the desirability of a more universal approach, as opposed to the long list of targeted measures such as those above, which can represent a cost in terms of classifying the beneficiaries due to long and sometimes bureaucratic processes. They have pressed for keeping a Basic Income model which can last after the pandemic is over, because Covid-19 will probably not be the last major setback to the Canadian economy. The next time it could be the shock from climate crisis or technological unemployment.
The CERB is not the first measure something like a Basic Income that Canada has experienced. An experiment called a Basic Income pilot was introduced in April 2017 by Kathleen Wynne’s liberal Government. The program consisted in monthly payments for 4000 randomly chosen individuals living under the poverty line, without work conditions, in three communities in Ontario. The program, originally stated to be for 3 years, ended prematurely, but showed interesting effects: the majority of the people who had low wage jobs before the trial remained in the workforce. Many went back to school, and mental health improved. The payments were like a Basic income in that they were not work-tested, but because they were income-tested and based on the structure of the household, the experiment was not a Basic Income pilot experiment.
The Basic Income Canada Network has proposed some options for Canada: among them there is cash transfer based on household income for 18-64 year olds people, of $22.000 per year ($31.113 for a couple) that decrease gradually as other income increases. This would be similar to the Ontario experiment, and so not strictly a Basic Income, but the report does model a fully individual, universal basic income option.
The time for Basic Income may have come and Governments around the world are implementing measures to address the financial fallout of the Covid-19 crisis. To many, a Basic Income – regular payments to individuals that are not work-tested or means-tested – may sound radical, but it might be the most rational thing the Government can do for Canadians.
The findings were publicized at a lauch event
on the referred day, organized by the McMaster Institute for Health Equity taking place at the L.R. Wilson Concert Hall, and having Hugh Segal as a guest. From the new study conclusions, it can be read:
- Everyone who received basic income reported benefitting in some way.
- Many recipients reported improvements in their physical and mental health, labour market participation, food security, housing stability, financial status and social relationships.
- Basic income also had a noticeable impact on the use of health services, with many of the survey respondents indicating less frequent visits to health practitioners and hospital emergency rooms.
- For a significant number of participants, basic income purportedly proved to be transformational, fundamentally reshaping their living standards as well as their sense of self-worth and hope for a better future.
- The majority of those employed before the pilot reported working while they were receiving basic income. Many reported moving to higher paying and more secure jobs.
- Those working before the pilot reported even greater improvements on some measures of well-being than those who were not working before.
More information at:
Laurie Monsebraaten, “Did basic income drive people to quit work? Not according to a Mac study of recipients“, The Hamilton Spectator, March 4th 2020
A new report from the Basic Income Canada Network (BICN) details how Canada could improve income security for everyone, with three options for a basic income for adults, while maintaining current child benefits for those under 18.
“We’ve seen interest in basic income grow far beyond theoretical debates. BICN is now frequently asked what it would look like in Canada,” said Chandra Pasma, a member of the BICN Advisory Council and co-author of the report. “Our report clearly shows there are multiple options Canadian governments could use to implement a successful basic income program.”
A basic income is an unconditional cash transfer from government to individuals to enable everyone to meet their basic needs, participate in society, and live with dignity, regardless of work status. The call for a basic income is growing, including from public health and environmental sectors, Nobel laureate economists, marginalized communities and people concerned about precarious work and technological disruption. The urgent need to reduce inequality and its costly consequences has led some researchers, advocates, and politicians to the conclusion that basic income is inevitable.
Statistics Canada’s Social Policy Simulation Database and Model (SPSD/M) was used to model the funding of the options, combining existing resources with changes to the tax/transfer system, including tax fairness measures. All options are based on BICN’s principles and goals–to reduce inequality, including inequality between women and men; prevent poverty; provide everyone with greater income security, including middle-income earners; and ensure the wealthiest individuals and corporations contribute their fair share. Each option in the report, Basic Income: Some Policy Options for Canada, meets these overall goals.
Option 1 is for 18-64 year olds based on household income, operating much like child benefits, with the $22,000/year ($31,113 for a couple) benefit amount gradually reducing as other income increases; seniors benefits remain in place.
Option 2 is similarly income-tested and is for all adults, including seniors.
Option 3 is a universal model, sometimes called a demogrant, that provides the same benefit amount to every individual adult.
“The options vary administratively so don’t get sidetracked by the size of the different up-front costs,” notes Sheila Regehr, Chair of BICN. “It doesn’t mean one is much more expensive than another. The options have similar results for people and they are all funded from similar sources.” The report also notes that other funding sources for a basic income are possible, as well as downstream savings that can help make it even more affordable.
“Basic income in Canada is not a question of possibilities, but of priorities,” said Regehr. “It is clear from child and seniors benefits that it works for many Canadians already. The federal government’s priority now must be to take leadership to make it work for everybody; we are all part of the future of this country.”
To download the full report, click here.
To download a summary of the report, click here.
Within the context of the wider Basic Income March, organized and executed on the past 26th of October, Toronto also saw a basic income manifestation. This was done simultaneously in other cities, such as New York, Amsterdam, Bogota and Seoul. Attendance was moderate, a few dozen people only, but the message conveyed was strong: that each citizen should receive an unconditional and regular amount of money, just in order to “have access to a certain level of comfort”, as Amélie Payette, one of the demonstrators, put it. Other people, at the venue, also referred to the “obligation to help prepare the future”, in the face of technological developments that are already displacing many people from the job market.
Also present at the demonstration was Alvin Tedjo, candidate to the Ontario Liberal Party leadership, who believes basic income can be what citizens need to cover their basic needs, in terms of nourishment and housing, and to fully participate in the economy. That, according to Tedjo, would allow people to “do their best to fulfill their potential”. Participants at the march also pointed to the fact that parents in Canada already receive a stipend, only conditional to them being parents of under-aged children (Canada’s Child Benefit). That, according to some, could one day amount to a basic income, if extended to the whole population.
The event has been covered by CBS News, shortly reported here.
More information at:
“Des citoyens réclament un revenu universel de base au Canada”, Radio-Canada, October 26th 2019
Ann Wheatley (from the PEI Working Group for a Livable Income). Picture credit to: CBC
Despite the dismantling of Ontario’s Basic Income pilot after the election of the Conservative Party in the 2018 provincial election, basic income continues to play a critical role in Canadian politics, both at the provincial and national level. Leading up to the 2019 federal election, the Prince Edward Island (PEI) Working Group for a Liveable Income decorated doors across the province with doorhangers that read, “Eliminating poverty matters to voters who live here.” The doorhangers would help spread the message to candidates when they came to do their usual canvasing before the election on October 21st.
The Liberal Party, led by Justin Trudeau, emerged as the winner in the election, forming a minority government after only securing a narrow victory. The Liberal Party, who officially supports a basic income guarantee, won in all ridings across PEI. Regardless of the setback in Ontario, basic income continues to be an important issue to Canadian voters.
More information at:
Yarr K.,“‘Sorry to have missed you’: Poverty activists turn tables on door-knocking politicians”, CBC, September 30th 2019
“Canadian federal election 2019: Live results map and riding-by-riding vote counts”, Maclean’s, October 21st 2019