(Trail Times file)

Pandemic will bring long-lasting changes to Canada

Column by Richard Cannings, South Okanagan-West Kootenay MP

COVID-19 has obviously changed our lives in the short term, and now there is a growing consensus that the pandemic will also bring more long-lasting changes to our society—how we value workers, how we treat our seniors, how we house the homeless, how we protect the environment, and more.

One topic that is surfacing more and more often is the idea of a basic income.

One of the first things we learned when the pandemic began was that Employment Insurance was completely inadequate to protect workers from lost income. Sixty percent of workers do not even qualify for EI.

So the government brought in the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, which provides $2,000 per month to workers who have lost their income because of the pandemic.

CERB is an essential lifeline for millions of Canadians, but there are still hundreds of thousands who fall through the cracks of the program’s qualifications and therefore can’t access it.

CERB has raised some interesting questions about how we take care of vulnerable Canadians. Some people have commented to me that $2,000 per month is simply not enough to survive on with dignity in Canada.

But we only provide about half that to people who are on social assistance and disability pensions, and only about 75 per cent of that for the combination of Old Age Security and the Guaranteed Income Supplement.

These conversations have raised the profile of a basic income in Canada.

How would such a program work? Would it discourage people from working? How could we afford it?

Some of those questions can be answered by looking at the results of pilot programs in Canada and elsewhere in the world.

It turns out that a properly designed basic income program does not discourage people from working, although some parents may choose to stay at home longer with infants and young people may choose to stay in school longer. In many cases it has given people living in poverty the hand up they need to start their own businesses and get back to meaningful work.

The cost of the program obviously depends on how many receive the benefit.

A universal basic income would entail every adult in Canada receiving the benefit and, while that would have been a good idea in this pandemic to temporarily support everyone who needed it quickly and with a minimum of red tape, it is unsustainable in the long term.

My former colleague, Guy Caron, is an economist who has studied and promoted what he calls a Guaranteed Minimum Income, or GMI. This would simply be a guarantee that no Canadian should would live below the poverty line.

The GMI is meant to complement our social services, not to replace them, although it could be integrated with existing federal programs that are essentially forms of basic income, such as Old Age Security, the Guaranteed Income Supplement, and the Canada Child Benefit.

Caron calculates that a GMI would cost about $30 billion per year to implement in Canada.

It may sound like a lot of money, but it would save billions in the long term.

Hospital workers know that a lot of our health care expenses go to treating poverty related illnesses, not treating disease.

By keeping all Canadians above the poverty line, we will have healthier citizens, youths who stay in school long enough to qualify for the good jobs of the future, young people who aren’t tempted by a life of crime to make ends meet.

And money provided to low-income Canadians circulates in the community, instead of being moved offshore or spent outside the country as a lot of corporate subsidies are.

We can eliminate poverty and all the negative impacts that it has on people. It’s time to take a serious look at basic income in Canada.

Richard Cannings is MP for the South Okanagan-West Kootenay.


Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Comments are closed

Just Posted

Castlegar RCMP arrest one man in relation to Midway stabbing

The stabbing occurred on June 17 and a suspect was arrested June 25

16 overdose deaths in Trail since 2010

Trail local health area has one fatal overdose on record in 2020, to date

Total West Kootenay rainfall 23% below average in June

Monthly summary provided by the Southeast Fire Centre weather office

Petition calls on referendum for new city hall development in Rossland

The petition sent to the B.C. government has gathered more than 350 signatures

Trail RCMP officer accused of criminal harassment, forcible entry

BCPS: The charges against Murchie date between 2017 and 2020

The pandemic is widening Canada’s workplace gender gap

Gender pay gap is incentivizing fathers to work while mothers watch children, a new B.C. study has found

Ex-Okanagan Mountie forfeits 20 days’ pay after sexual misconduct review

A former Vernon RCMP constable made sexual comments, grabbed genitals of male officer in two incidents 10 years ago

Man found dead on Okanagan trail identified as Hollywood actor

GoFundMe campaign launched for man found dead at summit of Spion Kop

3 people dead in Prince George motel fire

Fire personnel believe the blaze was suspicious although investigation in early stages

B.C. sets terms to review police, mental health, race relations

MLAs to recommend Police Act changes by May 2021

Feds announce $8.3M to deal with ‘ghost’ fishing gear in B.C. waters

Ghost gear accounts for up to 70 per cent of all macro-plastics in the ocean by weight

Almost 99% less land in B.C. burned this year compared to 2018

2018 was the worst year on record for wildfires

B.C. orders Coastal GasLink to stop pipeline construction near protected wetlands

The 670-kilometre pipeline is planned to transport natural gas from northeast B.C. to Kitimat

Most Read