By Richard Bell
The COVID-19 pandemic has created a surge of support for adopting a minimum basic income (MBI) for all Canadians. In a stunning example of how fast support for an MBI is growing, on April 21 2020, 50 Senators sent an open letter to the Prime Minister, the Deputy PM, and the Finance Minister calling on them to implement a minimum basic income to replace the government’s short-term Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB).
Senator Colin Deacon, who now lives in East Petpeswick, was one of the 50 signers. In their letter, the Senators point out that an MBI would cover people falling through the cracks of the CERB, and would be much more efficient than the on-going patching up of the CERB.
In an interview with the Cooperator several weeks later, Deacon said that he was pleased by the “ripple effect” the letter had had, pointing to a special two-page insert on an MBI in the Globe and Mail. “As non-elected parliamentarians, our job is not to lead public policy,” Deacon said, “we don’t have that right constitutionally. But what we can do is catalyze things, to inform the discussion.”
Here are some excerpts from the Senators’ letter explaining their support for launching an MBI:
“This is a unique moment in our history – a moment when Canadians from across the political and economic spectrum have seen before them the value of a program which would not require complicated application and qualification processes, but which would be there for people in times of need. As members of the Senate of Canada, we are writing to you to thank you and urge a further evolution of the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB)….
“Based upon what we are all hearing from Canadians, we believe it is very clear there will continue to be a need to create additional patches to the CERB to stop other groups of Canadians from falling through the cracks. Further administrative work will also be required to renew eligibility of individuals in the next months and beyond.
“Moving forward, we encourage you to finish the work you have commenced by restructuring the CERB to ensure greater social and economic equity as well as greater efficiency.
“Using the tax rolls to send a crisis minimum income to all who are in need would accomplish these two key goals. In terms of efficiency, as we are already seeing, it can quickly get support to Canadians who are in dire straits. CRA can issue these payments by deposit or mail with little more than the push of a button. People in need require support today. In terms of social and economic equity, it would allow for a more expeditious application of the benefit to those vulnerable Canadians for whom support will otherwise be required. Each new initiative takes time to craft and time to implement, leaving those most vulnerable to experience chronic hardship.
“The use of the CRA tax rolls could also free up public service capacity that is currently stretched as public servants strive to administer applications, assess and, with each new measure, reassess eligibility and processing payments. The liberated time and resources could be utilized to help people not currently on the tax rolls to convert their applications to tax files. Such measures could ensure quick payment for individual Canadians while simultaneously increasing the ease of administration and sustainability of supports that we can already recognize will be needed beyond the current timeline for the program, and into the foreseeable future.” (Full text at https://ubiworks.ca/50senators/.)