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LETTER: Bring on the guaranteed basic income, Canada

Basic income guarantee.
Basic income guarantee. - 123RF Stock Photo

During this COVID-19 pandemic, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau should seize this moment and take an initiative to implement new socially progressive programs, like a universal basic income and a national pharmacare program.

Our country needs a Franklin Delano Roosevelt New Deal approach to some of our country's socioeconomic ills.

Out of the Great Depression (1929-39) and the Second World War (1939-45) came social security and unemployment insurance, and in Canada's case, family allowance (or the baby bonus).

Many of our European allies implemented universal public medicare (including pharmacare) systems in their respective countries long before Canada did. Now, hard times call for desperate measures.

Some people are aware that I have been involved with the Provincial Poverty Reduction Strategy consultations since they were first initiated by the former Danny Williams PC government in 2005.

When it comes to poverty and our social safety net, it is a complicated issue.

Out of the poverty reduction strategy recommendations, there are pharmacare, dental care, child care, basic income, a living wage, housing, and medical transportation, etc.

Right now the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) and Canada Emergency Student Benefit (CESB) help certain groups in society more so than others.

We need a national program that is just, fair and equitable for all Canadians.

Within and outside the Poverty Reduction Strategy consultations, both federally and provincially, people are unanimous that our current social safety net is not working, and as a result, we learn of cases where people are falling through the cracks.

People I have met say that our federal and provincial social assistance programs don't go far enough.

People are still financially struggling these days. More and more people are having to turn to their local food banks, like Bridges to Hope, the Gathering Place, New Hope Community Centre and other agencies. Our unemployment and provincial bankruptcy levels are the highest in the country.

A guaranteed basic income applies to us more so than at any other time in our country's history.

We need a national program that is just, fair and equitable for all Canadians.

Basic income is not free, as it is paid for by our collective taxes, including those who recently find themselves out of work due to no fault of their own. Even some of the people who may benefit from basic income, like the persons with disabilities, some of the unemployed on employment insurance and some seniors still pay into income tax

I see many more pros than cons to basic income.

Already, people who are on social assistance are not there because they want to, but have to be on it so they can get full 100 per cent drug coverage, housing allowances, medical supplies and so on, for them and their families.

Why do we have many full-time minimum wage workers with and without benefits who live in poverty? No full-time worker should live in poverty.

Yes, basic income would help our low-income seniors, people with disabilities, as well as the working poor.

We have to be careful not to judge people as many have serious mental health issues, "invisible" disabilities or special needs or addiction issues, or have a family member or spouse who has a serious disability or chronic health issues.

Some may be retired workers or part-time or underemployed workers or temporary or seasonal workers.

Some are caregivers looking after their ailing spouse or child or parents.

Plus there are disincentives for some people to look for or maintain a job. For some, getting a job may lead them to be cut off their drug coverage, special assistance or housing allowance.

And, there are people who live in high unemployment regions of our provinces and country. In the end, studies from countries that have a guaranteed basic income and Manitoba's and Ontario's past basic income pilot projects have or had lower rates of poverty, unemployment, homelessness, crime and poor health, and have an improved quality of life for their citizens.

In of this coronavirus pandemic, Roosevelt's 1937 words apply to us more than ever: "The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little."

Like others, I propose a basic living income to help least of these in our society.

We need to treat everyone in need with love, and dignity, to give them hope and to give people a hand up not a handout.

Edward Sawdon,
St. John's


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