When Parliament returns to work in the coming weeks, one of the Liberal government’s first orders of business will be a fall economic statement. Expectations include such big-ticket items as national childcare, likely bankrolled by a proposed three per cent tax on financial institutions and insurance companies. But the biggest question for the new government may be how long it intends to maintain pandemic-support payments, and whether it will go even further, towards a more permanent version of annual income support — a guaranteed basic income, as the NDP has been advocating.
For 18 months now, unemployed Canadians have received unprecedented amounts of government money. First, Ottawa shelled out $74 billion for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) from March to September 2020. The program then morphed into the Canada Recovery Benefit (CRB), which cost another $26.1 billion as of September 2021. Finally, the government extended the CRB until Oct. 23 of this year, for an additional $2.2 billion.
All this cash did more than keep people afloat. It also transformed the labour market. Across Canada, employers began reporting worker shortages. Agricultural employers found that prospective employees didn’t even show up for interviews. The hospitality industry reported the same phenomenon . A recent survey by the Business Development Bank of Canada of 1,251 small and medium-sized businesses found that 55 per cent are struggling to hire the workers they need, hampering growth and forcing businesses to delay or refuse new orders. In the words of one frustrated employer currently offering employees 65 per cent more than the minimum wage, “People don’t want to work, especially in agriculture or physical labour-based jobs.” He added, “If UBI (universal basic income) comes into effect, agriculture will be a dead business.”