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Yuen Pau Woo, a B.C. senator says that the COVID-19 pandemic is just as good of time as any to test out the program of universal basic income in Canada, he said in a new interview with CBC.
Woo recently asked the Parliamentary Budget Office to calculate how much universal basis income would cost to implement for six months, to all Canadians. The PBO estimates the project could cost anywhere between $47.5 billion to $98 billion. Ultimately, that number would depend on how much the government would take back from Canadians who earned other income.
The PBO made their analysis based on the universal basic income pilot project that was launched in Ontario under the Liberal government. Under that project, individuals would receive a total of $16,989 a year and couples would receive $24,027. The program was later shut down by Doug Ford's administration after he came into power.
The Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) which was ushered in to help Canadians deal with the economic hardships brought on by the pandemic is set to expire in October, however Canada's economic future is still very uncertain. This is why, in part, Woo thinks its a good time to test out universal basic income.
"We already have a number of basic income-type measures, you know, wage supplement, guaranteed income supplement, childcare benefit and so on. So this is not, in principle, different from those, but it would have a wider coverage. But the underlying principle here is that all Canadians are vulnerable to shocks in the economy, shocks in their personal lives that may put them in a situation where they are, all of a sudden, vulnerable. And we saw that very starkly in the COVID-19 crisis." said Woo in an interview with Nil Koksal on As It Happens.
Woo said that the program would not provide people with lavish lifestyles, but rather give them the freedom to make better decisions: "The basic income does not provide for a lavish lifestyle, not by any means, but it provides individuals with, fundamentally provides them with freedom. Freedoms to, obviously, house themselves, feed themselves, freedoms to pursue education, for example, to not put themselves in precarious situations. These are particularly important for disadvantaged communities. You know, whether we're talking about a lot of First Nations communities and other racialized minorities."
"If there's one thing we've learned from the COVID-19 crisis is that there are many gaps in our social safety net system. And there seems to be a determination on the part of Canadians of all political stripes to patch these gaps. Basic income would be one way of doing that." added Woo.
Woo believes the pandemic is as good place to test out the project, saying, "I don't underestimate the political challenges, but this is an opportunity that's before us. We all know that major social policy reform happens after big crises — you know, after the war and after the Depression and so on. This may be the equivalent for Canada and other Western industrialized countries."
"It will take a leap of faith. And that's why I'm saying that this is an opportunity for us to, at the very least, conduct an experiment, if you will. Maybe a time-limited experiment that can be used to demonstrate if, in fact, [there are] benefits."