I’m writing to urge you and your party to be bold during this time of crisis and introduce a much-needed policy: a basic income guarantee for Canadians.
Around the world, experts now recognize the need for a basic income in a time of crisis such as this one, when it is imperative that people are able to stay home from work to slow the transmission of COVID-19. However, so many citizens working in Canada – especially those in the hard-hit service industry and the vital care-economy – are among the working poor who simply cannot afford to take the prudent step of staying home because they are self-employed, part-time, casual or contract workers.
Unlike increases to EI or other emergency measures, a basic income can be delivered immediately with few or no barriers to access. Payments could reach those who need it most, could happen quickly through cash transfer, and would require fewer government workers to process claims.
We are now experiencing a historic moment of change and opportunity, in which bold action is not only required but also possible given the level of cross-party cooperation and national spirit present. This Parliament could leave a legacy as great as Medicare with similar lasting, positive impacts.
Even self-proclaimed conservatives are now supporting the idea of a basic income guarantee. The idea is being pushed forward in the US Congress and around the world. Implementing a basic income now would provide immediate relief to the thousands of Canadians facing a choice between protecting public health and putting food on the table.
Pandemics such as COVID-19 are likely to be the “new normal” for the foreseeable future. Canada could set itself up now to be able to withstand future crises and reduce the social, economic and political disruptions they entail through the bold enactment of a basic income guarantee.
In the long run, a basic income guarantee would put Canada in good stead to face our more precarious future. Income inequality is a huge contributor to the chronic poor health conditions that make pandemics more severe. Undernutrition and stress, for example, make people more susceptible to disease and, of course, infections such as COVID-19. For this reason, in 2015 the Canadian Medical Association endorsed basic income as a key health measure.
This measure is particularly important to address poverty and ill-health among children as well as marginalized groups such as Indigenous people. It is also important to note that casual, temporary, part-time or otherwise precarious work is particularly common among young people under 25, the ones who will be most affected into the future.
The time to strike is now, while the Liberal government has the mandate and capacity to be bold in its action. In introducing a basic income guarantee, today’s political leaders will change the face of Canada at home and abroad and create a far better future for generations of Canadians.
Leslie Jeffrey is a professor in the Department of History and Politics at the University of New Brunswick in Saint John. She is the co-author of Sex Workers in the Maritimes Talk Back.