In the wake of Covid-19, time to consider basic income: Senate report
Report calls for reforming emergency supports, restoring oversight
By: James Langton
The federal government should consider creating a guaranteed basic income, reforming the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) and restoring Parliamentary oversight of spending to combat the economic effects of the Covid-19 outbreak, a Senate committee report says.
In an interim report on the government’s response to the pandemic and its economic effects, the Senate Committee on National Finance recommended that the government consider adopting a guaranteed basic income.
“The effectiveness of the CERB as an emergency income support has led many people to wonder whether it is time to consider a more permanent solution, such as a basic income guarantee,” the report said.
Among other things, the committee also made recommendations for restructuring CERB as a declining benefit, based on income, and improving access to the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS).
While the committee lauded the government’s response to the pandemic — including federal financial support programs, such as CERB and CEWS, noting that these likely prevented a more severe economic crash — it also said that the government has used extraordinary powers to introduce these measures.
On March 24, Parliament passed legislation that granted the government greater spending power and exempted it from requiring Parliament’s approval to expand its borrowing.
The report noted that “the threat of Covid-19 shows no sign of abating in the near term,” and, as a result, it recommended a return to traditional parliamentary procedures for government spending.
“Parliament has a fundamental role in reviewing and approving government spending,” the report said.
The committee also recommended that the government provide quarterly financial updates throughout the crisis, so that policymakers, lawmakers and Canadians have accurate information about the country’s financial health.
“While the government and public service acted with commendable speed in implementing crucial financial supports, public and parliamentary scrutiny of spending measures will be crucial for Canada’s economic recovery,” said Senator Percy Mockler, chair of the committee, in a statement.
Looking ahead, the committee said that it will focus on recovery strategies when it resumes meeting in the fall and make recommendations for building a “fairer and more sustainable economy.”
“We hope that our study will lead to improved programs and services that will see all Canadians share in the economic recovery. We look forward to laying out a vision for this recovery when we continue our study,” said Senator David Richards.