Pandemic relief efforts inspiring basic income discussions

The Beacon Herald

With millions still out of work and a so-called new normal yet to be fully realized, Canada’s social safety net has been put under a harsh spotlight during the pandemic, and some observers, including non-profit and public health leaders in Huron and Perth counties, are ready to discuss where we should go from here.

Leading the way locally is United Way Perth Huron and its Social Research and Planning Council. In a discussion paper published last month, the council set a clear direction towards basic income, an idea that was brushed aside in Ontario as recently as last year but is again picking up steam as the number of applications for the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit surpasses 8.5 million.

“It’s timely because CERB is basic income, in essence, and so lots of people have it at top of mind,” said Ryan Erb, the United Way’s executive director. “It’s a form of an unconditional cash transfer to people in society who, for various reasons, need the support. While we’ve been doing the research and writing the report, we’ve discovered that many others are thinking similarly – that it’s a good time to have the conversation.”

Jobless rates in Canada and Ontario both improved slightly in July as the economy began to show its first signs of recovery since the pandemic forced the closure of non-essential services in March. But what the post-pandemic workforce will look like is still unclear, particularly as pre-pandemic trends towards more automation and gig work continue to loom on the horizon.

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