Trudeau’s Choice

By: Laura Steiner

The cost associated with federal aid programs implemented by the federal government to help Canadians through COVID-19 will be into the billions by the time they finish. The Canadian Emergency Business Account is at $13.7 billion. The Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) will be at $82.3 billion, while the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) will be at $80 billion.

It all adds up to a $343.2 billion deficit; the largest since World War II. It’s 10 times larger than forecast for this fiscal year. Some programs may need to be extended. The figures have some wondering if might be more affordable to roll some of these benefits into a Basic Minimum income.

Earlier this month, Independent Senator Yuen Pau Woo requested a costing analysis on a basic income for six months. The idea was is, it would take over for the CERB giving low-income Canadians from 18-64 years of age 75% of the low-income measure. This would add $24,439 for single people or $34,562 for couples. The Parliamentary budget officer came back with an estimate of $47.5 billion for that period.

The idea of a minimum or basic income has been on the political radar for some time. Conservative Senator Hugh Segal is a long-time advocate and advised on Ontario’s Basic income pilot project. The Conservative Party are proposing to tweak the CEWS so that the grant declines the more hours an employee works.

The NDP have gone as far as to propose that a 1% tax be levied on those with $20 million in assets. They also suggest that tax laws be tightened to collect on those hiding money overseas. A google search turns up a resolution 97 from the Liberal Party of Canada (LPC)’s 2014 convention ending with the following:

“Be it resolved that the Liberal party of Canada advocate for a federal basic income in at least one Canadian town or city in cooperation with the appropriate provincial and municipal governments.” The resolution didn’t make into the 2015 platform.

As Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau made major societal changes. He repatriated the constitution and introduced the charter of rights. He adopted multiculturalism, and bilingualism as official policies, arguably making him the father of modern Canada.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is in a position to build on that work with a basic income. In an age of hyper partisanship, he could adapt both the NDP, and Conservatives’ suggestions into a policy that would help an estimated 9.6 million Canadians. That would be a legacy no scandal could tarnish. So why doesn’t he do it?