Everyone is shaped by our life experience. By our upbringing, the jobs we’ve held, and the setbacks and triumphs that we experience. I was brought up to be self-sufficient. My parents expected my sister and I to finish post secondary education, to earn a living, and to be financially independent. They set these expectations for us because they met so many other couples whose marriages failed, invariably leaving the women in financial difficulty. The values I was taught as a child were reinforced by my military career. Be self-sufficient, education and training are important and can help you succeed, everyone should be treated with respect.
Before COVID-19, I would hold meetings at independent cafés, attend events where I mingled with other business owners, and shop in locally owned stores. I can imagine the challenges many business owners are facing, particularly those with brick and mortar locations, who have significantly more overhead than I do including: rent and payroll. Overhead costs don’t go away just because businesses must shut their doors to help #FlattenTheCurve.
I’ve been following the roll-out of Canada’s COVID-19 Economic Response (CERB) Plan. It seems to me that the Canadian government is focusing on bailing out the multi-national and national companies, and that the programs for the Micro, Small and Medium businesses may not take effect in time for them to survive. I’ve realized that many people, including the owners of smaller businesses are going to quickly run out of disposable income. When I identify an obstacle, I start to look for options. It’s funny how sometimes the answers to problems have been around for a while, I just haven’t recognized them.
A few years ago, I participated in discussions hosted by the Poverty Round Table Hasting Prince Edward and their Living Wage working group. I’ll admit I was somewhat flabbergasted by the concept of a Guaranteed Basic Income. Remember, I was taught to be self-sufficient. It was easier for me to understand the concept of a living wage. It made sense to me that everyone working should be able to earn enough to live. That big businesses often pay enormous wages to their C-Suite while paying many of their staff to minimum wage, or poverty level earnings, goes against my belief that everyone should be treated with respect, and that we all bring something to the team. I’ve been quietly advocating for a living wage within my circle of influence. In retrospect I could have been louder.
When I retired from the Canadian Armed Forces, I realized that the majority of my immediate circle of family, friends and colleagues, came from a place of privilege. Our families expected to help our children go on to complete post-secondary education. I realized that I needed to develop a better understanding of those who haven’t had the same privilege. I love learning, meeting new peoples and reading. To help me better understand others, from their perspective, I read books written by people with vastly different backgrounds, I also turned to Twitter. I follow speakers and authors that I admire, people I meet, people with similar values and people with very different backgrounds.
One of the things I learned is that there are people in the world who would love to be self-sufficient, who for a variety of reasons can’t do it on their own. Some are in remote communities where there isn’t much paying work, some are single parents, some are discriminated against when they try to get work that they’re qualified and trained to do.
I’ve read about how hard it is to get a job if you’re homeless. Where do you get cleaned up, and clean clothing to wear for a job interview? What address or phone number do you put on your job application? How can you think about researching employers, when you haven’t had a solid meal in days? All this new knowledge silenced the little voice in my head, whispering “they should get a job.”
Learning all these things helped me to understand that a guaranteed basic income was a good idea and that I could support the concept. I know that the Canada Child Benefit lifts families above the poverty line and decreases the reliance on food banks. This also helped me along my journey to acceptance.
COVID-19 has solidified my belief that Canada should implement a guaranteed basic income, for everyone over 18 living in Canada. For all Indigenous peoples, Canadian citizens, Permanent Residents, and probably more. The Canadian government acknowledged that $2,000 is the minimum that individuals in Canada need to survive. Not thrive, survive.
The government has acknowledged that many people are falling through the CERB eligibility cracks. An opt-in guaranteed basic income plan would allow everyone in need to apply. This includes many Micro and Small business owners, the brave minimum wage earners on the front lines working in grocery stores to help us feed our families, the people whose hours have been cut even though they still have a job, and many more. I believe that most people are honest, and that micro business owners like me, who can pivot our business would not apply, that those earning a good wage, with benefits, and guaranteed jobs would not apply. Those whose circumstances change can opt-in when they need it.
Now is the time to seriously think about what we want our new normal to look like. I’ve seen a lot of people on Facebook and even some on Twitter who are applauding the brave people on the front lines helping us survive the pandemic, truck drivers, grocery store staff, medical professionals, cleaners, and more. Let’s change the way we think, to give everyone a chance to take care of their basic needs. Let’s institute a Guaranteed Basic Income across this land we call Canada.