Backing basic income
By Sue Tiffin
The Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge district health unit’s board of health has unanimously supported a letter from the Simcoe-Muskoka district health unit that calls for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit to roll into a guaranteed basic monthly income for all Canadians, “during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.”
The May 20 letter is addressed to Prime
Minister Justin Trudeau, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland and
Minister of Finance Bill Morneau. Signed by Anita Dubeau, chair,
board of health, Simcoe-Muskoka district health unit, the letter was
also circulated to Premier Doug Ford, Simcoe and Muskoka MPs and MPPs
as well as municipal councils, the Association of Local Public Health
Agencies, Ontario Public Health Association and Ontario boards of
The letter commends the federal government for “economic measures that have been put into place to support Canadians during this unprecedented time of the COVID-19 pandemic,” which has included measures such as the CERB, the Canada Emergency Student Benefit and the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy. A basic income would address gaps the SMDHU says for Canadians unable to access the programs who are “vulnerable to household food insecurity and the negative consequences of income insecurity and poverty such as inadequate or unstable housing, and poorer mental and physical health, including chronic diseases.”
It notes that even prior to the employment hardships caused by the pandemic, in 2017-2018 approximately 4.4 million Canadians reported being food insecure, including 1.2 million children under the age of 18. The SMDHU said basic income pilots in Canada have resulted in “promising findings,” and references the Ontario Basic Income Pilot implemented in 2018 in three cities and terminated in 2019 by the incoming government.
“Moving forward during and following the COVID-19 pandemic is an opportune time for the federal government to take action to evolve the CERB into a basic income,” reads the letter. “This would provide income security to all Canadians during the economic challenges of the pandemic itself, the post-pandemic recovery, and into the future. This is particularly pertinent given the dramatic shifts in the labour market in recent decades, such that full-time permanent employment is no longer the norm. The current CERB has helped demonstrate the logistical feasibility of delivering a basic income, and it could be readily evolved into an ongoing basic income for anyone who falls below a certain income floor.”
The letter also makes note of “key Canadian initiatives that demonstrate the positive impact of basic income-like programs on health and well-being [which] include the Old Age Security and Guaranteed Income Supplement through Canada’s public pension system, the Canada Child Benefit, and the Newfoundland Poverty Reduction Strategy.”
At a June 18 meeting held via conference call, the HKPRDHU board of health endorsed the letter, two days after the federal government announced an eight-week extension of the CERB, which provides $2,000 monthly to those who qualify and was established soon after the initial measures put in place throughout Canada to flatten the curve of the spread of COVID-19.
Dr. Lynn Noseworthy, HKPRDHU medical officer of health, in supporting the endorsement said now “is a very opportune time for us to rally around this because COVID-19 is pointing to the disparities that people face in their lives. We find that when we’re doing case and contact follow-up. Some don’t have anyone to assist them when in self-isolation at home, to get them groceries, to get their medication, that kind of thing. So it really shows, like the 1918 influenza pandemic did, it affected people who were more marginalized then, [COVD-19] is affecting people who are more marginalized now.”
One person in the meeting questioned the cost of such a program.
“When you look at the supports that are currently in place for people who have income issues, [the government] pays for a variety of supports,” she said after the meeting in questions from the media. “If you look at the cost of doing all those things versus providing basic income to individuals and families, the benefit is greater [providing basic income] in the long term. They have better health, they end up getting jobs and they have more security in their lives. They also have fewer mental illnesses; they’re not worrying about the next paycheque.”
Noseworthy, who has been in the role of medical officer of health for the past 16 years, said she had gone into public health after seeing, as a general practitioner, people struggling with health issues related to their life circumstances.
Doug Elmslie, board of health chair, said he thought there seemed to be more acceptance of the idea of a basic income guarantee now, with more receptive people in the federal government than in the past.
“My view on it is that I think it’s a worthwhile thing to support,” he said. “I think we’ve been faced with poverty and trying to do something with poverty for some 4,000 years, and what we’ve done clearly isn’t working, and we just continue to throw money at the problem and throw our support behind Ontario Works and social housing and this kind of thing, and keeping people basically with a stipend, making it difficult for them to get out of the poverty loop. I’d like to see it at least tried so we can see whether it will make a difference in people’s lives and whether they will be able to break these poverty cycles.” Later, he added: “Trying something different can’t hurt us. What we’re doing isn’t working, so let’s try something else.”
The HKPRDHU region includes Lindsay, which was one of four communities involved in the Ontario Basic Income Pilot Project. It was intended to run for three years but was cancelled in its first year, in March 2019.
Noseworthy said the project had seen participants return to school, set up businesses and buy basic necessities to eat better.