By Sue Tiffin
The Haliburton Kawartha Pine Ridge District Health Unit’s board of health has unanimously supported a letter from the Simcoe-Muskoka DistrictHealth Unit that calls for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit to roll into a guaranteed basic monthly income for all Canadians “during theCOVID-19 pandemic and beyond.”
The May 20 letter is addressed toPrime Minister Justin Trudeau Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freelandand Minister of Finance Bill Morneau.
Signed by Anita Dubeau chair board of health SMDHU the letter was also circulated to Premier DougFord Simcoe and Muskoka MPs and MPPs as well as municipal councils the Association of Local Public Health Agencies Ontario Public HealthAssociation and Ontario boards of health.
The letter commends thefederal government for “economic measures that have been put into placeto support Canadians during this unprecedented time of the COVID-19pandemic” which has included measures such as the CERB the CanadaEmergency Student Benefit and the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy. A basic income would address gaps the SMDHU says for Canadians unable to access the programs who are “vulnerable to household food insecurity and thenegative consequences of income insecurity and poverty such asinadequate or unstable housing and poorer mental and physical healthincluding chronic diseases.”
It notes that even prior to theemployment hardships caused by the pandemic in 2017-2018 approximately4.4 million Canadians reported being food insecure including 1.2million children under the age of 18. The SMDHU said basic income pilots in Canada have resulted in “promising findings” and references theOntario Basic Income Pilot implemented in 2018 in three cities andterminated in 2019 by the incoming government.
“Moving forwardduring and following the COVID-19 pandemic is an opportune time for thefederal government to take action to evolve the CERB into a basicincome” reads the letter. “This would provide income security to allCanadians during the economic challenges of the pandemic itself thepost-pandemic recovery and into the future. This is particularlypertinent given the dramatic shifts in the labour market in recentdecades such that full-time permanent employment is no longer the norm. The current CERB has helped demonstrate the logistical feasibility ofdelivering a basic income and it could be readily evolved into anongoing basic income for anyone who falls below a certain income floor.”
The letter also makes note of “key Canadian initiatives that demonstratethe positive impact of basic income-like programs on health andwell-being [which] include the Old Age Security and Guaranteed IncomeSupplement through Canada’s public pension system the Canada ChildBenefit and the Newfoundland Poverty Reduction Strategy.”
At a June18 meeting held via conference call the HKPRDHU board of healthendorsed the letter two days after the federal government announced aneight-week extension of the CERB which provides $2000 monthly to those who qualify and was established soon after the initial measures put inplace throughout Canada to flatten the curve of the spread of COVID-19.
Dr. Lynn Noseworthy HKPRDHU medical officer of health in supporting theendorsement said now “is a very opportune time for us to rally aroundthis because COVID-19 is pointing to the disparities that people face in their lives. We find that when we’re doing case and contact follow-up.Some don’t have anyone to assist them when in self-isolation at home to get them groceries to get their medication that kind of thing. So itreally shows like the 1918 influenza pandemic did it affected peoplewho were more marginalized then [COVID-19] is affecting people who aremore marginalized now.”
One person in the meeting questioned the cost of such a program.
“When you look at the supports that are currently in place for people whohave income issues [the government] pays for a variety of supports”she said after the meeting in questions from the media. “If you look atthe cost of doing all those things versus providing basic income toindividuals and families the benefit is greater [providing basicincome] in the long term. They have better health they end up gettingjobs and they have more security in their lives and they also have fewer mental illnesses for example because they’re not worrying about thenext paycheque etc. The cost of providing the program over time willindicate that it’s a worthwhile investment in people’s lives.”
Noseworthy who has been in the role of medical officer of health for the past 16years said she had gone into public health to address these kinds ofissues after seeing as a general practitioner people struggling withhealth issues related to their life circumstance including unemployment and poverty.
Doug Elmslie board of health chair said he thoughtthere seemed to be more acceptance of the idea of a basic incomeguarantee right now with more receptive people in the federalgovernment than in the past and that it would be a step in the rightdirection to influence them to look further into it.
“My view on itis that I think it’s a worthwhile thing to support” he said. “I thinkwe’ve been faced with poverty and trying to do something with povertyfor some 4000 years and what we’ve done clearly isn’t working and wejust continue to throw money at the problem and throw our support behind Ontario Works and social housing and this kind of thing and keepingpeople basically with a stipend making it difficult for them to get out of the poverty loop. I’d like to see it at least tried so we can seewhether it will make a difference in people’s lives and whether theywill be able to break these poverty cycles.” Later he added: “Tryingsomething different can’t hurt us. What we’re doing isn’t working solet’s try something else.”
The HKPR region includes Lindsay whichwas one of three communities involved in the Ontario Basic Income PilotProject. It was intended to run for three years but was cancelled in its first year in March 2019. Noseworthy said the project had seenparticipants return to school set up businesses and buy basicnecessities to eat better.