Wednesday's announcements about the roll out of the Canada Emergency Relief Benefit (CERB) provided some answers to questions that have been weighing heavily on many Canadians.
Unfortunately what we’ve learned is not going to alleviate the stress and anxiety of many workers in our communities. Workers who have seen their self-employment income slow to a trickle. Or workers who have lost one or two of their multiple part-time jobs. Or contract workers who lost some, but not all of their contracts. The list goes on, it's a long one. This is what work looks like for a large percentage of Canadians, a patchwork of employment arrangements that doesn’t fit the standards of the era when our employment insurance system was created. So these workers are ineligible for EI, not because they work less, but because they work differently.
Insisting that workers must have 100% loss of income to be eligible for CERB doesn’t reflect the employment reality of the workers that CERB was supposed to cover - the ones who are ineligible for EI. Rest assured I will continue to advocate for ALL of the people in our communities who are falling through the gaps in the safety net. This includes people with disabilities, seniors, students and single parent families. The COVID-19 crisis has increased living expenses for people on fixed incomes. They need to purchase cleaning and disinfectant products, hand sanitizer and stock up on extra supplies. Public transit has scaled back and vulnerable people with compromised immune systems are taking taxis instead of transit to protect themselves. The community services that many people rely on to help make ends meet, meal programs, volunteer services and other programs have been scaled back or completely cut. People on disability benefits have lost part-time jobs, and income, they urgently need to cover their bills. Seniors have seen their RRSP investments and dividends plummet with the stock market crash. Old Age Security has not been increased in a decade and is long overdue for a cost of living increase.
What our current crisis is revealing, more clearly and urgently than ever, is that Canada needs a Guaranteed Livable Income. GLI is not a radical idea. It's an idea whose time has come. Imagine a safety net that catches everyone. For both social and financial reasons, Greens have been advocating for a GLI for years, and the Green Party caucus has been working to advance the national conversation about GLI. MP Jenica Atwin spoke about the need for a GLI in her speech in the House of Commons during the emergency session last week. The idea has gained support across the political spectrum, because it’s a sound and sensible thing to do.
A Guaranteed Livable Income would replace our patchwork of federal and provincial programs with a single, universal, unconditional cash benefit. The principle is to establish an income floor below which no Canadian could fall. The amount would be based on the cost of living in each region, the same way a living wage is calculated. The benefit would be progressively taxed back according to income. Allowing low income workers to retain the full benefit is a strong incentive to continue working. A GLI would alleviate poverty, and free up our social services to focus on our mental health crisis and addiction crisis.
These are just the broad strokes, the benefits of a GLI are many. But right now, in the midst of an unprecedented public health crisis, as our government service agencies are gridlocked by the inundation of applications for financial assistance, there is one benefit that stands out. Delivering a single, universal, unconditional cash benefit to every Canadian is simple. And because a GLI would replace our current patchwork of benefit programs, it dramatically simplifies the administration required. Everyone receives a monthly payment. Most of the time most people won’t really need it, and the funds will flow back to the government through taxes. But when circumstances change, whether it’s one person losing a job, or millions, having a GLI in place will help us weather the storms ahead, without the stress and anxiety that too many are enduring right now.
Let’s keep this conversation going. We’re learning difficult lessons right now that we shouldn’t forget. As we navigate our way through this crisis, hold fast to the belief that we can emerge from it better, together.
I recently sponsored a parliamentary petition for a Guaranteed Livable Income - https://petitions.ourcommons.ca/en/Petition/Sign/e-2583