The economic repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic have reinvigorated calls for progressive policy on Parliament Hill.
Nanaimo-Ladysmith MP Paul Manly recently called for a guaranteed livable income (GLI) for all Canadians. Manly advocated for the policy in the April 20 sitting of the House of Commons.
“A GLI is not a radical idea, it’s an idea whose time has come. Imagine a safety net that catches everyone,” Manly said. “… It’s an idea that has gained support across the political spectrum because it is a sound and sensible thing to do.”
Manly’s GLI proposal would replace a ‘patchwork’ of federal support programs with a single, universal cash benefit.
A Green Party backgrounder on GLI states that it would replace welfare payments, disability supports, the Old Age Supplement (OAS), the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS), the Canadian Child Tax Benefit (CCTB), and the National Child Benefit Supplement (NCB). Employment insurance (EI), the Canada Pension Plan (CPP), child care subsides, social housing, drug benefits, and dental care would not be impacted.
Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) spent $118.4 billion on those social programs in the 2017-18 fiscal year. Departmental expenditures for ESDC were $2.4 billion in voted grants and contributions, and $2.2 billion went to Employment Insurance.
Manly acknowledged that disabled people should not have their funding reduced or negatively impacted by any GLI model.
“Some disabled people have high expenses in terms of the equipment need and the pharmaceuticals they need. Those kinds of things would be covered,” Manly said.
He said a GLI payment would eliminate administrative costs associated with the programs.
“A big chunk of that money goes toward a bureaucracy that decides who gets that money and who doesn’t. We’re spending a ton of money right now on civil servants, and on redesigning software and systems at CRA and Service Canada to deal with these programs that are changing weekly,” Manly said.
The proposed GLI would ‘completely disappear’ by the time Canadians earned $60,000 or more, Manly said. The idea of a GLI is to create an income floor for Canadians so they could pay for their cost of living. GLI payments would be calculated based on the affordable income of specific communities, for example the GLI payment in Vancouver would be larger than the payment in St. John’s, Newfoundland.
The COVID-19 pandemic may be the spark for revitalized conversations around GLI, but Manly said COVID-19 won’t be the only economic interruption that Canadians will face.
“It’s not just crises, it’s changes in the work force. We’re dealing with more automation, we’re dealing with artificial intelligence. People are losing their jobs because of these things, and we’re going to lose more jobs,” Manly said.
He cited how current requirements to qualify for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit are leaving some workers without support.
“Now you’re allowed to earn up to $1,000 and you can still get your $2,000 benefit. But if you make $1,010, your cheque disappears on you. You can’t tell me that’s a fair system,” Manly said.
The NDP has echoed that perspective. NDP leader Jagmeet Singh called on the federal government to make access to CERB universal so any Canadian who needs support can receive it.
“We have said from the beginning that the simplest and most effective way to ensure that no one is missed or left behind is to send support directly to all Canadians,” Singh said in the House of Commons on April 29.
“Absent that, we have said that if the government is not willing to have a universal basic income for Canadians during this crisis, then at least make the CERB universal.”
NDP House Leader Peter Julian said that there are too many obstacles for individuals trying to access government support.
“This reinvigorates the idea that we need to have in place a simple emergency response benefit that everybody who needs it can actually get it,” he said.
“The idea for a universal basic benefit in this pandemic is a model for how we can build a much kinder society that leaves nobody behind coming out of this.”
Julian said that the COVID-19 pandemic provides the greatest opportunity since then end of World War II to enact progressive policies. Julian is in a favour of a guaranteed livable income for Canadians, but said it depends on which model.
“I come out of the disability community, and many people in the disability community fear what has been proposed by many right-wingers. They propose universal basic income as a way of eliminating all the other social programs that exist. In that sense, I reject the principle that universal basic income should be used to diminish the benefits that so many people survive on today,” Julian said.
“A universal basic income that actually enhances people’s quality of life, and ensures that they can get a full quality of life for them and their families, absolutely I would support that.”
Julian advocates for enhancing existing social programs rather than replacing them. He is also calling for universal pharmacare, affordable housing, dental care, and free post-secondary education. Julian and the NDP say funding for these programs would come from tax revenues generated by wealthy Canadians and corporations. It is unclear how that tax revenue could be recouped.
“This pandemic has proven that resources can be provided to support people. Now is the time for us to envision the kind of country that we all want to see,” Julian said. “I know how progressive people in Ladysmith are, and indeed right across the country. People want to see a better Canada.”