The employment insurance section of the Government of Canada website is shown on a laptop in Toronto on April 4, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jesse Johnston

Should CERB be transformed into a universal income program?

Sixty per cent of Canadians in a recent survey say the wealthiest should pick up guaranteed income bill

More than eight million Canadians have been forced to rely on the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit due to the pandemic wreaking havoc on the economy.

As COVID-19 rewrites the playbook on various aspects of society – from best business practises to social interactions to government intervention – the current state of job losses have left many wondering if now is the time to test a universal income benefit.

It’s a social safety net of sorts that has become quite popular among Canadians, according to a recent survey by the Angus Reid Institute.

Three-in-five of the 1,510 respondents, or roughly 60 per cent, said they would support a $10,000 to $30,000 annual income.

ALSO READ: CERB to be extended by eight weeks amid gradual post-COVID reopening

Thirty per cent outright oppose the idea – which New Democrat Leader Jagmeet Singh called for the Liberals to look into in April – while 10 per cent are undecided.

Survey respondents were also divided nearly 50-50 on whether universal income would discourage people from wanting to work.

When asked who would pay for such a program, 60 per cent said that the wealthy should pay more in taxes to support some kind of guaranteed income. Notably, support for this was highest among those in the lowest income levels – or under $25,000 – compared to those earning $100,000 or more per year.

Meanwhile, 36 per cent said they would be willing to pay more in taxes in order to support it – a notion favoured most strongly in B.C. and Atlantic Canada compared to other regions.

TURNING DOWN WORK: CERB causing issues for some B.C. restaurants

Universal income as an idea to transform or eradicate poverty has been a concept lingering around for years, but calls for the federal government to consider it have reignited in recent weeks.

Currently, CERB provides $500 weekly to eligible Canadians who’ve been forced to stop working because of the ongoing pandemic.

In June, 50 senators signed an open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to seriously consider turning CERB into a universal program.

In April, Trudeau told reporters that it isn’t as simple as it sounds.

“It’s not as easy as saying we’re going to send out a cheque to every Canadian regardless of their age or their region, it’s more complex than that,” he told reporters.

In 2018, the Parliamentary Budget Office estimated that a Canada-wide basic income program would cost nearly $80 billion a year. To note: that’s $10 billion less than the estimated cost of the CERB program between March and August.

ALSO READ: Extending CERB for months could double $60-billion budget, PBO report suggests


@ashwadhwani
ashley.wadhwani@bpdigital.ca

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