CERB or Universal Basic Income? Election looms, legislators consider options.

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Photo by Hello I’m Nik 🎞 on Unsplash

As politicians consider redefining “fiscal responsibility”, those in need may benefit from recent UBI and CERB discussions.

As unemployment becomes a main issue of the provincial election, the effects of the pandemic have been felt widely. However, with the beginning of Year 2 of COVID, there has yet to be any word of a second round of CESB payments despite the fact that many of the employment opportunities remain effected over a year later. As summer jobs are a large portion of student employment, there seems to be only a short amount of time before the federal government will have to make their verdict on financial options, if at all.

A petition by NDP MP Laurel Collins’ closed in January with nearly 10k signatures urging a CESB extension, student loan moratorium, and increased post-secondary funding. Many students rely on summer jobs and with COVID continuing into Year 2, and the possibility of a second round of funding remains uncertain but no less important. In a similar vein, COVID conditions have renewed interest in the prospects of a universal basic income (UBI). In Fall, the Liberal Party of Canada voted to investigate the policy as a top issue during the last party convention.

Its also noteworthy that Deputy PM Chrystia Freeland’s past work as a journalist and writer focused on inequality between the rich and poor. Her journalistic focus culminated in the 2013 book “Plutocrats”, which received several awards (and even led Trudeau to inviting her into the Liberal Party) for exploring the rapid rise of the ultra-rich in Russia and the United States. If Freeland’s role in Canadian politics continues (particularly as a freshly appointed Finance Minister in the wake of Bill Morneau’s stingy economics), it’s not far-fetched to imagine a new and bold policy direction. Surprisingly, the attention to income inequality has now transcended traditional party-policy divisions with the former Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulrooney advocating for a “guaranteed income”. Furthermore, parliamentarians from the “All-Party Anti-Poverty Caucus”, advocate for UBI on a non-partisan basis, citing the success of the CERB program.

Returning to provincial applications, UBI (universal basic income) has become closer to a reality in Newfoundland and Labrador. This October, NDP MHA Jordan Brown passed a UBI motion to the provincial legislature with unanimous support. Having appeared on campus prior to the pandemic, Brown seems to be concerned about the economic situation facing the province’s working class.
After the “Snowmageddon” that set off 2020, reliable sources of income have been fluctuating between environmental challenges, lockdown restrictions, and the broader industrial trends in the provincial economy (more apparent is the absence of an oil boom). Representing St. John’s East, NDP MP Jack Harris raised similar concerns about lost wages during the storm and has since directed energy to critiquing of the fed’s excessive pursuit of fraudulent CERB applicants.

While a provincial committee convenes to investigate UBI, some have raised concerns about whether or not the measure will incentivize employers to reduce wages and thus nullify the potential benefits. Furthermore, others have argued that landlords and other firms will respond by increasing prices and service charges, another course that would effectively just subsidize already dire conditions, while actually increasing the margins cleared by profiteers. If the policy becomes a reality, it might be worth putting forward as part of a larger bill that would make those struggling more financially secure (i.e., regulating housing markets with rent control). The whole idea is to make workers more fiscally buoyant but if costs of living maintain the gap, the cash handouts might prove to be worthless. In the meantime, increased income support has been released for essential workers in the province.

In St. John’s the lack of income remains an main contributor to homelessness; whether or not UBI can help will depend on whether it can even make it through the provincial or federal assembly.

Photo Credits: Hello I’m Nik 🎞 on Unsplash

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