COVID-19 has shed light on socioeconomic issues in our society. The number of people who required help here in Canada from the Canadian Economic Recovery Benefit (CERB) was a clear indicator that people are about one paycheque away from homelessness. Never has the gap between the haves and the have-nots been so obvious.
In a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation report posted December 2020 called, On the Edge of a Bleak Pandemic Winter, Canada’s Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister, the Honourable Chrystia Freeland offers a vague plan for recovery. In the report, Freeland was vague but she was not dismissive or delusional.
In the same article conservative leader Erin O’Toole talked about “hard work,” and “perseverance” as though it was 1989. Tell any high school kid out there today to get a job in the service industry and they will tell you there are no jobs. During the pandemic we’ve seen many small businesses close. Jobs are few and far between, and according to the article, “Canadians are suffering and significant hardship is still on the way as the weather turns cold.” Counter measures will likely cost Canadians $267.3 billion, and by 2021 the report states, “the debt or GDP ratio would peak at 52.6 percent.”
My question is, how much of this $267.3 billion will trickle down to the poor? According to the government website, Canada has spent $81 billion on CERB; the math states: of the $267.3 billion spent on COVID Recovery, thirty percent of it has been given directly to people in need (minus taxes of course).
COVID-19 showed the world is not prepared for a pandemic, it has laid bare the widening gulf between rich and poor. The New York Times published findings in a 2019 study by the U.S. Government Accountability Office and titled, Income Gap Between Rich and Poor Keeps Growing, With Deadly Effects. It states that “[t]he gap between rich and poor is not only widening the gulf in incomes and wealth in America. It is helping the rich lead longer lives, while cutting short the lives of those who are struggling.”
The days of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps are gone. The American dream of freedom and capitalism is blatantly unsustainable, and by proxy, Canada is inextricably tethered to the American economy. In an article that appeared in the Huffington Post, December 5th 2020, the author Zi-ann Lum states, in referencing Canada’s Prime Minister: “Trudeau says he sees no future for basic income right now.” However, “[m]ore that 50 senators signed their names on a letter in May asking for the CERB to be evolved into a guaranteed basic income to overcome eligibility issues that left some Canadians, including those receiving disability benefits unable to receive pandemic relief.” Moreover, the author writes “[r]olling out a temporary basic income could have been a cheaper way to deliver financial support directly to Canadians during a pandemic-induced economic emergency, according to the parliamentary budget officer.” Furthermore, the author wrote, “[m]omentum behind the idea of a guaranteed basic income is not expected to cool down completely, at least in the Liberal party. Caucus members consider the idea a top resolution, which means it will be up for debate at the party’s next policy convention in April.” (Zi-ann Lum, Huffington Post, 2020-12-05. )
A June 24th 2020 report by David Cox for the British Broadcasting Corporation,Canada’s forgotten universal basic income experiment, referred to “mincome” in the town of Dauphin Manitoba, 317km’s north west of Winnipeg. Over the four-year experiment, hospital rates went down, mental wellness improved, there was an increase of children graduating high school, and businesses thrived. The experiment was cut because it was considered too expensive for the federal and provincial government, and Dauphin fell into recession.
Answers to the questions of affordability need to be solved on a larger scale, but the effects of COVID-19 give credence to the idea of a basic income. Yet, if there is one thing that I have learned from COVID-19 it is this:
if the economy had human welfare at the front of its policy, civilization would not be ravaged by pandemics, afflicted with widespread poverty, and engulfed in a greater number of environmental calamities.
I’m an optimist, I’d like to believe that the population now and the generations that follow will have something to look forward to-- that all the people who have billion-dollar bankrolls, the multinational corporations with trillions hoarded away, and the governments that write the laws governing the world would see the sense of leaving something for the remaining 99% of the human population and future generations. I love a great story where the global threat is somehow subverted and there is real world-changing good that comes from it. Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could tell the grandchildren that it was our generation that helped save humanity?