Labour Views: New normal must be free from poverty

By Jack Bourassa 


After weeks, months and years of continuous job searching they still can’t find a job that helps them pay their bills. They can’t pay rent and might soon face eviction and are at risk of becoming homeless.

Single parents have to choose between, putting food on the table or paying for their rent. Their kids haven’t had nutritious food in months. They’re lucky if the school runs a lunch program.

Young graduates struggle to find a job. Along with their diploma, they left university with student debts. They have no time to chase their dreams. They are on a less than promising job hunt with good prospects fading fast.

We don’t have to look far or imagine scenarios in which members of our communities are facing unbearable financial struggles. This could be you, a loved one, a friend or neighbour.   

The list above doesn’t include marginalized communities that are stricken by poverty with no means to break the vicious cycle of being deprived from basic needs. If you live in the North, you’re aware of remote places in which individuals and families are facing dire food insecurity. 

Poverty is not caused by a virus but is the world’s worst pandemic. Mahatma Ghandi sums it up: “Poverty is the worst form of violence.” It kills our youths’ dreams… causes childhood traumas… shatters families and collapses communities. 

Poverty is more than a lack of income and productive resources to ensure sustainable livelihoods. According to UN’s definition, poverty’s “manifestations include hunger, malnutrition, limited access to education and other basic services, social discrimination and exclusion, as well as the lack of participation in decision-making.” 

While we’re better off than many other nations across the world, Canada is not immune. There are around 3.2 million Canadians, including 560,000 children living in poverty. Making matters worse, the low-income threshold is subject to increase due to the high costs of living. This would make more people at risk of falling deeper under the poverty line.

There is no one solution to abolish poverty and this is not going to be an easy journey. But there is one reality that we need to all endorse and pledge to promote: by lifting each other, our communities will be stronger and healthier. The economy is better when everyone is better off. This requires a strong moral and political will. 

There are many proposed solutions and current actions that are meant to eradicate poverty. I want us to look at one of them: Guaranteed or Universal Basic Income (UBI). 

Every day, I become more convinced that UBI will provide a great relief if implemented. UBI is a stipend amount of money that individuals would receive to help them fulfil their basic needs, taking into consideration diverse realities and geographic locations. 

Is this doable? Yes. The pandemic, despite all its adversaries, showed us that when there is a will there is a way. If there is a will to help individuals and communities, there is a way. From government solutions to community driven efforts, all of those responses are meant to provide temporary relief to those affected by the pandemic. For instance, Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) temporarily rescues millions of Canadians who stopped working because of COVID-19. This will end soon, while the pandemic continues to pose a threat.  

CERB reminds me of what a basic income program would look like. It’s meant to help people temporarily, but unlike CERB, it is going to be more inclusive. For instance, an individual who had to quit their job to provide caregiving to a family member might have no source of income and find it challenging to get back to the job market with experience. In the meantime, UBI will provide them with some help. A recent graduate will find a financial relief that will help them while acquiring the experience they need. There are a myriad of examples where life will be improved for all. Marginalized communities will have better standards of living… more participation in social and political aspects of life… and thus, our nation will end up with diverse empowered communities. 

CERB must smoothly transition to a federal program that enables individuals and families to cover their basic needs. Elected officials across the political spectrum must seize the moment to help millions of Canadians emerge from the pandemic without falling into poverty. When we get back to normal, all of our communities must break free from poverty. 

When is the right time to introduce a plan that will help eradicate poverty? Now is the time! 

No individual, family or community should be left behind.

All for one and one for all!


This column appeared in the Yellowknifer on July 24, 2020