The Canadian Federal Government's Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) program is supposedly coming to an end this month. Prior to this week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberal MP's hinted at the need for Canada to pursue an ambitious social agenda post-pandemic and suggested a universal basic income (UBI) to replace CERB.
The Throne Speech on September 23 promised to expand supports for struggling businesses and to extend the wage subsidy program until next summer, with no details given at the time. It was claimed that the wage subsidy extension forms part of the government's vow to create a million jobs, which would restore employment to pre-pandemic levels. Many people feel that this is yet another ploy to extend the CERB to buy votes from those participating in the program for an upcoming election. About 8.75 million Canadians have applied for CERB.
This proposed universal basic income (UBI) will replace or top-up social supports for targeted low-income groups, like those on welfare or disability. To help finance the idea, a list of programs such as the disability tax credit, the caregiver tax credit and “social assistance” will be eliminated.
UBI is not something entirely new in Canada. There are at least two Canadian provincial cases over the last 50 years. The first one happened in Manitoba when piloted a project back in the 1970s in the city of Dauphin and other rural communities. the Progressive Conservatives axed the program when they came to power in the province. The program was considered a success 30 years later when an economist wrote a report using the collected data and census information. It was subsequently determined that “basic income has an overall positive impact on recipients.”
In 2016, a similar scenario played out in the province of Ontario. It all started when then Premier Kathleen Wynne’s Liberal government appointed former Bill Davis chief of staff Hugh Segal to conduct a study on basic income. The study looked at “whether a basic income can better support vulnerable workers and give people the security and opportunity they need to achieve their potential.” Segal’s study also looked at whether a basic income “can be a simpler and more economically effective way to provide income security support to people living on low incomes.”
Segal’s 2016 report found that a basic income dispersed to low-income Ontarians who need it would help reduce poverty, whereas social support programs like “Ontario Works” and Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) were only alleviating the symptoms of poverty. A three-year pilot project was recommended and four thousand participants were selected randomly for the program in Hamilton, Brantford and Brant County, Thunder Bay, and Lindsay.
参与试点的单身人士每年最多可获得$ 16,989(如果有其他收入，50%的其他收入会从基本收入里扣除)。参与试点的夫妇最多可获得$ 24,027(如果有其他收入，50%的其他收入会从基本收入里扣除)。残疾人每年还可获得额外的$ 6,000。安省进行该试点项目的总投资约为5,000万元。
Single people in the pilot received $16,989 per year (less 50 percent of any earned income). Couples involved in the pilot received up to $24,027 (also less 50 percent of any earned income). People with disabilities were given an additional $6,000 per year. The province’s total investment in the pilot program amounted to some $50 million.
Participants reported spending their income on better food, staying in school, improving their housing situation and, in some cases, starting a small business. They also reported being more financially independent. Nevertheless, Premier Doug Ford pulled the plug on that experiment, breaking an election promise to maintain the program. The government claimed people were dropping out of the program.
So, would a universal basic income program cost more than current social programs?
A universal basic income program implemented on top of current support programs in addition to investments in affordable housing, childcare and pharmacare (to name a few) would cost more. It is therefore necessary to “trim” out many of these programs and concentrate the money on the UBI instead.
Before we look at the Pros and Cons of the UBI, we need to examine the CERB program first as many consider it to be a sort of pilot UBI program disbursing monthly funds during the COVID-19 days of 2020. We will continue with this discussion next time.
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