(The Canadian Press)

(The Canadian Press)

Budget officer pegs cost of basic income as calls for it grow due to COVID-19

Planned federal spending to date on pandemic-related aid now tops about $174 billion

Providing almost all Canadians with a basic income for six months beginning this fall could cost about $98 billion, the parliamentary budget officer said in a report on the eve of a preview of how COVID-19 will shape government spending until next spring.

The figure is the upper range of the scenarios the budget watchdog was asked to research as part of a report released Tuesday morning as policy-makers consider how to shape emergency supports set to expire in the fall.

Planned federal spending to date on pandemic-related aid now tops about $174 billion, in a range of programs meant to provide a financial floor for individuals and businesses.

ALSO READ: Should CERB be transformed into a universal income program?

The idea of giving a government-guaranteed basic income to Canadians has gained steam as millions have watched their jobs or earnings evaporate in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau and other senior cabinet ministers have repeatedly been asked by senators and MPs about the concept. Advocates argue that it would be an expansion of the $80-billion Canada Emergency Response Benefit for workers who saw their incomes crash.

The CERB and a $45-billion wage-subsidy program are set to expire in October.

Providing six months of a basic income starting that month could cost between $47.5 billion and $98.1 billion, depending on how much of the benefit is clawed back from people whose other incomes increase.

Budget officer Yves Giroux’s report says the average benefit to Canadians aged 18 to 64 would range between $4,500 and $4,800, with the number of recipients depending on the phase-out rate.

Sen. Yuen Pau Woo, who asked for the costing, said a basic-income program could fill in the gaps in Canada’s social safety nets, a patchwork largely run by provinces, that have been exposed by the pandemic.

“It’s a huge undertaking to launch a basic income for the whole country on a permanent basis. The costs are extremely high and the political resistance is likely to be fierce, but we are in a period where it is likely we will have to spend large sums of money on income support going into the balance of 2020 and into 2021,” Woo said in a telephone interview.

“The question to my mind is how we spend it, and in what form.”

A basic income means different things to different people, but it is usually viewed as a no-strings-attached benefit that governments provide to citizens instead of various targeted social benefits.

Also known as a guaranteed minimum income, it can be delivered as a universal payment, or as a means-tested benefit that declines as a recipient’s other income rises.

Giroux’s report says the government could repeal $15 billion in tax measures to offset the overall cost of a basic-income program, which Woo added would likely have to wrap in existing measures to avoid duplication.

The overall cost of the program might be higher than the budget office estimates. The PBO’s estimates rely on some Statistics Canada income data that doesn’t include people living in the northern territories or in First Nations, or some military members.

Nor can the figures simply be doubled to determine a full year’s cost because that might overstate the financial impact. The economy appears to be bouncing back slowly from a bottoming-out in April, and the cost of the program would depend on how many employees are rehired or find new jobs.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business, which represents small businesses nationwide, said Tuesday that about one-third of members responding to a survey reported being back at full staffing levels, but suggested many believe it will take six months to get back to normal profitability.

Statistics Canada is to release June’s jobs report on Friday.

Projections released Tuesday by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development estimate Canada’s unemployment rate at 11 per cent for the second quarter of the year.

The 37-member international body predicted the national unemployment rate would decline to 7.7 per cent by the end of the year, or to 8.4 per cent should a second wave of the novel coronavirus force renewed lockdowns.

NDP finance critic Peter Julian said Tuesday that the uncertain economic path ahead requires the Liberals to say how the government plans to reshape emergency aid in Wednesday’s fiscal update.

He said a more universal benefit, which the NDP has pushed, would have helped more people and cost less had the Liberals used it from the start.

“It makes more sense to make sure that everybody who needs the benefit can actually get it than the government’s approach,” Julian said.

The Liberals have said the update on Wednesday will provide an economic outlook, an accounting of spending to date and projections for the remainder of the fiscal year, including the expected deficit. The PBO and others estimate that to be at least $250 billion.

Jordan Press, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Coronavirus

Just Posted

The Independent Investigations Office of BC is looking into a Castlegar incident. File photo
Police watchdog investigating Castlegar incident

IIO: Woman sustained a reportedly self-inflicted injury

The Kootenay International Junior Hockey League met for their AGM and announced a number of new initiatives, new awards and changes in their executive committee, as well as the starting date for the 2021-22 season. Paul Rodgers file.
KIJHL announces start dates for 2021-22 season

Season set to begin Oct. 1 with league still following all health guidelines

South Slocan’s Ti Loran is among the recipients of this year’s Neil Muth Memorial Scholarship. Photo: Submitted
Neil Muth Memorial Scholarships awarded to 4 students

Students in Creston, South Slocan and Revelstoke are sharing the honour

A wildfire near Cottonwood Lake was put out by Nelson firefighters Sunday night. Photo: Submitted
Wildfire extinguished near Cottonwood Lake

Lightning-caused fire was near one of Nelson’s water sources

West Kootenay Regional Airport. Photo: Betsy Kline
Central Mountain Air leaving Castlegar airport in July

The airline says market can’t handle two airlines

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participates in a plenary session at the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, England on Friday June 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada donating 13M surplus COVID-19 vaccine doses to poor countries

Trudeau says the government will pay for 87 million shots to be distributed to poor countries

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Kelowna-Lake Country MLA Norm Letnick, assistant deputy speaker at the B.C. legislature, presides over committee discussions. The legislature is completing its delayed spring session this week, with most MLAs participating by video conference. (Hansard TV)
B.C.’s daily COVID-19 infections dip below 100 over weekend

Only 68 new cases recorded Monday, four additional deaths

B.C. ambulance station in Revelstoke is expected to get a new system called the Scheduled On-Call (SOC) this fall. (Liam Harrap - Revelstoke Review)
B.C. ambulance changes could put Revelstoke residents at risk, warn local paramedics

Paramedics said to expect a substantial increase in ambulance response time starting this fall

The BC Ferries website went down for a short while Monday morning following a provincial announcement that recreational travel between health authorities can resume Tuesday. (Black Press Media file photo)
BC Ferries’ website crashes in wake of provincial reopening announcement

Website back up now, recreational travel between health regions to resume as of Tuesday

The Kamloops Indian Residential School is photographed using a drone in Kamloops, B.C., Monday, June, 14, 2021. The remains of 215 children were discovered buried near the former school earlier this month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Communities grapple with what to do with former residential and day schools

Some tear them down as a tool to help healing, others repurpose them as tools for moving forward

FILE – Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry talks about B.C.’s plan to restart the province during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, Tuesday, May 25, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. watching U.K.’s COVID struggles but don’t think province will see similar pitfalls

Studies show that one dose of vaccine is only 33 per cent effective in preventing B.1.617.2 spread

RCMP Const. Shelby Patton is shown in this undated handout photo. RCMP say that Patton was hit by an allegedly stolen truck that he had pulled over on Saturday morning in Wolseley, east of Regina. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, RCMP
Pair charged in Saskatchewan Mountie’s death make first court appearance

Const. Shelby Patton was hit by an allegedly stolen truck that he had pulled over Saturday morning

David and Collet Stephan leave for a break during an appeal hearing in Calgary on Thursday, March 9, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol
Appeal Court rejects stay for Alberta couple facing third trial in son’s death

Pair accused in their earlier trials of not seeking medical attention for their son sooner

Most Read