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- by Shea Angus

Today Parliament has been recalled to pass some form of emergency funding for the entire country as we try to navigate the situation unfolding with COVID-19.

There have been a variety of measures proposed to offer financial relief to Canadians as more and more businesses are shutting down and Canadians are staying home to flatten the curve and slow the spread of COVID-19. Currently, the Liberals plan to introduce a complex $82 billion relief package. This includes things like enhancing EI, the Canadian Child Benefit, creating new applications for Canadians that don’t qualify for EI, deferring tax filing due dates, delaying student loan payments, and offering a variety of benefits to help businesses pay their employees.

The specifics of the law have yet to be seen as it is set to be tabled today with a reduced House of Commons and requires the unanimous consent of the Members present to pass.

If everything goes according to plan, these changes would come into effect at the end of this month, and applications would open at the start of April.

Unfortunately, I remain incredibly concerned about the complexity of this bailout package and thus the ability of the Government to deliver the financial relief to Canadians in time. Just yesterday with the announcement from Premier Doug Ford about closing all non-essential businesses in the province, the EI website crashed and the phones were too busy for people to get through. A shrinking bureaucracy cannot be responsible for administering an additional multi-billion dollar program on top of what they are already struggling to keep up with. We are almost a month into calls for social isolation. Bills are already adding up and time is not on our side.

Because of that, I want to add my name to the list of people calling for a temporary Universal Basic Income (UBI). This is the simplest and most effective way to ensure that Canadians receive the financial support they require through this unprecedented time.

For those unaware, a UBI is exactly what it sounds like: monthly cash payments for Canadians with limited or no restrictions on who can claim it.

Let me be very clear. I do not consider this to be some deep socialist move, nor am I an agent trying to ensure a UBI stays for good. I have significant concerns about UBI as a long term solution.

If I am being generous and concede that a UBI could be paid for by eliminating all the social services it would replace (EI, subsidized housing, etc.), cost savings in healthcare, increased taxes to clawback the money from those who don’t need it, and the abolition of the bureaucracy required to administer all of the current welfare systems, there is still the important question of whether or not this would discourage people from seeking out work.

However, it is precisely because of this concern that I think a short-term UBI is the perfect solution to help us through this uncertain time and enable Canadians to afford to be able to stay home.

A UBI would do little more than effectively give Canadians back the money the government has already taken away from them. The Fraser Institute released a study that says that the average Canadian family pays roughly 42.5% of their total income in taxes compared to 37% for basic necessities, making taxes the single biggest expense for the average Canadian. A UBI would only return a fraction of that money back, but would nevertheless offer significant relief to Canadians who are stuck at home and out of work.

As a student of history and a self-proclaimed civil libertarian, I know the consequences of giving Government powers during times of crisis. I haven’t forgotten that the Government is still “temporarily” collecting income taxes to help pay for the First World War. This is all the more reason to be vigilant and hold the Government to account once we are on the other side of this pandemic. Should a UBI be implemented, there will be efforts to maintain that program in the long-term.

Nevertheless, a UBI makes the most sense right now. It provides Canadians with the ability to stay at home and afford to live through this pandemic. This cannot be a time to worry about political calculations or future partisan agendas. We are a country in crisis and we must do all that we can to ensure that we come out of this in the best position possible, and I think a temporary UBI is a critical step to ensure that happens.

Image by Reimund Bertrams from Pixabay


 

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