universal basic income canada

There's now a movement for a universal basic income to replace CERB in Canada

Calls to transition the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) into a universal basic income program are growing louder, with multiple Canadians voicing their support for the idea.

The taxable benefit has provided a six-month safety net for Canadians who have lost their jobs, with a staggering 8.5 million people — almost a quarter of the population — applying to receive $2,000 each month through the program.

And it's clear that during the pandemic, the CERB was needed.

In May, Canada reported its second-highest unemployment rate in history, with a shocking 13 per cent of Canadians out of a job. Restaurants were forced to close. The travel industry was suffering. Actors, musicians and artists were out of a job.

The CERB gave Canadians a sense of security — and it may have changed attitudes about income assistance forever.

In fact, more than half of Canadians support some form of universal basic income, according to a recent survey from Angus Reid.

At proposed levels of $10,000, $20,000 or $30,000 annual income, the idea of universal basic income garnered support from three-in-five Canadians, or 59 per cent.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has been pushing for universal basic income (UBI) since the pandemic began in March, and he continued to do so in April, when he pledged to keep fighting for it.

"Too many people are still left out," he wrote in a Tweet.

On Wednesday, Winnipeg Centre MP Leah Gazan tabled a motion in the House of Commons to convert the CERB into a permanent guaranteed basic income.

The motion's goal is to "eradicate poverty and ensure the respect, dignity and security of all persons in Canada now and for future generations," per the petition.

Although it's still unclear exactly what basic income in Canada would look like, it would probably apply to adults between the ages of 18 and 64 who find themselves struggling financially, according to the Basic Income Canada Network (BICN).

That could include job loss, jobs paying below the poverty line, or freelancers that can't find work in a tough economy.

The basic income amount would be comparable to the CERB monthly amount of $2,000.

"For working-age Canadians, overall there is little security in the event of job loss, disability, divorce, prolonged illness and treatment, maternity, economic recession and other life events," the BICN website says.

"In many cases welfare provides an income nowhere near to meeting basic needs. It is a throwback to an earlier time that is not suitable to life in a modern, affluent democracy."

But as the saying goes, money doesn't grow on trees, and there are concerns over how a universal basic income would be implemented.

An estimate from Canada's Parliamentary Budget Officer puts the cost of a six-month basic income program at somewhere between $47.5 billion and $98.1 billion — and that money has to come from somewhere.

Moreover, that same poll from Angus Reid found that although the majority of Canadians support the idea of UBI, they're reluctant to put that idea into action.

In fact, 64 per cent of survey respondents said that they would be unwilling to pay more in tax to fund a universal basic income.

Some business owners have also expressed concern that CERB could deter Canadians from returning to work, a sentiment echoed by outgoing Conservative party leader Andrew Scheer.

"At a time when our economy needs stimulus, Justin Trudeau has given it a tranquilizer," Scheer said in May, per CBC. "This failure must be reversed before it is too late."

Currently, the federal government haven't announced any plans to implement a UBI; instead, they're gearing up to transition "as many Canadians as possible" from CERB to Employment Insurance (EI) at the end of August, per an Aug. 10 press release.

The temporary measure will set a uniform eligibility requirement for EI, and allow eligible Canadians to access 26 weeks of benefits.

CERB recipients that don't qualify for EI such as gig workers and contract workers will be included in a "transitional, parallel benefit."

Lead photo by

Jonathan Borba

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