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Monday, July 15, 2024


2024 Federal Budget Must Include Commitment to Livable Incomes, a Jobs Guarantee and an ambitious National Housing Strategy

Summary of Recommendations

Recommendation 1:  Establish a transitional benefit program over the next eighteen months, modelled on the CERB experience, and set at 90% of the Low-Income Measure.  Use this window between Sept 2023 and March 2025, to plan and implement the transition to a permanent guaranteed adequate income program. 

Recommendation 2: Implement a federally funded but locally administered job guarantee program providing anyone willing to work with a job, full-time or part-time, that best suits their personal or family circumstances, and underlying health conditions. Projects would  focus on community building, the caring economy, and supporting the green transition.

It would be designed to provide a living wage of at least $20 an hour, and funded through a wealth tax, targeting tax avoidance measures, and tax fairness measures aimed at large corporations, banks, and tax deductions contributing to wealth inequality

Recommendation 3: Expand the purpose and scope of the National Housing Strategy through a 15 year plan designed to: 1) Create a national agreement, in cooperation with the provinces, on a plan with specific yearly targets, to fully eliminate homelessness within 10 years; 2) A commitment to fund the creation of 1.5 million units of non-profit housing across Canada over the next 15 years; and, 3) Replace REIT subsidies that underwrite the reduction of affordable rental housing with mortgage guarantees to acquire, upgrade and maintain the affordability of 300,000 units of private rental housing.


The recent pandemic revealed the tears in our social safety net and growing inequality that leaves too many people behind.  Too often the most vulnerable among us are being ignored or neglected.  The time has come to focus on improving human health, on reducing inequalities, and on creating the foundation for an economy that strengthens families and communities and protects our environment.  It is time for a guaranteed livable income, for access to productive work, and renewed public investment in the creation of non-profit and affordable housing.  In conjunction with a strengthened EI program, implementation of a national pharmacare program, and the recent investments in child development and early learning, all Canadians can thrive. 

A Guaranteed Livable Income

The pandemic experience with the CERB benefit proved that a Guaranteed Livable Income is both possible and can be implemented quickly.  We know from previous pilots that such programs improve both physical and mental health, improve educational outcomes, reduce crime, and do not create work disincentives. 

Research also highlights that as incomes dip below 90% of the poverty line the impacts of falling deeper and deeper into poverty have huge negative impacts on the health of those affected. Research on work incentives has concluded that reduction rates on earned income must fall between 25% and 40%. Higher reduction rates discourage work, and low ones dramatically increase program costs reducing efficiency.

As underlying data from a British Columbia review in 2020 demonstrates, a basic income program with reduction rates between 30% and 40%, can largely eliminate deep poverty.

A basic income of $20,000 (with a benefit reduction rate of between 30% and 40%) produced a drop in the poverty rate of between 83% and 87%.  Those living in deep poverty could be reduced by 92% to 96%.  

While implementation challenges remain, the parameters of a workable program are already known. It should:  1) form part of a larger transformation of Canada`s system of social protections and income supports, 2) apply at the individual level and to all adults 18 to 64 years of age, 3) not be conditional, but as a right, 4) be set no lower than 90% of the Low-Income Measure, and, 5) be harmonized with existing income support programs for adults to ensure consistency and eliminate gaps.

This transition would eliminate completely the punitive system of social assistance, that is rooted in nineteenth century attitudes to the poor and destitute, and that have no place in a society based on human progress, reducing health inequalities and democratic values. 

It would unbundle income support from attachment to the labour market, be designed to ensure that existing social insurance programs are retained and strengthened, most notably EI, and that other programs designed to meet differentiated needs based on access to housing, disability, and settlement of immigrants are not lost within bureaucracies focused on exclusion and punishing the poor.  More detailed discussion is available here, and here.

Its Time for a Job Guarantee

The Covid-19 pandemic demonstrated that in times of crisis and growing inequality governments can play a critical redistributive role through directing spending and investment to projects that support living standards and improve the health of their citizens, communities, and the real economy.

Since the 1970s, we have been encouraged to accept unemployment of 5% to 7% as acceptable. One such idea was NAIRU, (the non-accelerating inflation rate of unemploy-ment) to control inflation with higher unemployment. This muddled thinking became a pillar of the emerging ‘gig’ economy justifying the increasing precarity of many jobs.

Pavlina Tcherneva in her ground-breaking book, The Case for a Job Guarantee offers a compelling alternative. A Job Guarantee.  As unacceptable costs to society spread, she called out its pathological side-effects of crime, drug abuse, violence, family break up and others that have been profoundly damaging the social fabric.

The post-pandemic recovery offers a unique opportunity to boldly restructure the labour market in ways that would make job insecurity and poverty wages a past relic. The next decade will involve massive shifts in jobs and skills as we move away from extractive industries and toward more caring and green economy work.

A universal jobs program, could be closely aligned with such shifts and focus on supporting local communities to successfully make these transitions. We urge the federal government to launch a Work Transitions program including a Job Guarantee, skills training, and a Green Jobs Corps focused on community resilience.

How Would a Job Guarantee Work?

  • A federally funded but locally administered program providing anyone willing to work with a job, full-time or part-time, that best suits their personal or family circumstances, and/or underlying health conditions
  • It would be designed to provide a living wage of at least $20 an hour
  • Fund it by targeting tax avoidance, a wealth tax, and tax fairness measures aimed at large corporations, banks, and the top 30% of tax filers
  • Strengthen social protections related to workers, renters, and consumers, including outlawing predatory lending
  • It would also ensure that the Canadian economy can both respond to the challenges of the global marketplace while also being embedded within local communities and helping to achieve a community-driven and socially desirable distribution of jobs and incomes for all Canadians

There are tens of thousands of people who could be working but are not. A job guarantee provides the best chance for those struggling with mental health or addictions, who need some accommodation and support, or who are transitioning and need to learn new skills.

A job guarantee is a community-building job creation program and not an employability program that concentrates on education and training to increase the marketability of those out of work. Job Guarantees place people into actual jobs while creating the training and supports to enable them to succeed.

Whether full-time or part-time, dependent on the needs of applicants and their local communities, they would allow people to acquire skills and work experiences that could serve as a bridge to better paying jobs in either the private or public sector.

Re-Imagining Full Employment: Where a Job Guarantee Program Fits In

Providing work and supporting job transitions are important responsibilities of government. The Right to work represents a fundamental principle of the 1948 UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

As we transition toward a caring and green economy, it is important that no one get left behind.  A Jobs Guarantee program could readily be structured to play this role. This idea has come mainly from academic and political circles the United States.

But Canadians are familiar not only with the ideas but also have experience with its practice through the federal Local Initiative Programs (LIP) that existed from 1971-1977 as a protection against unemployment and in the interests of local communities. The time has come to create a re-imagined vision of this approach – A Job Guarantee.

Making Housing a Human Right.  A Fifteen Year Plan

Housing must be viewed as a social right and not simply as a commodity.  We have a collective responsibility to ensure that we create housing that is affordable to all households including those with low and modest incomes. 

Our existing models bid up land values and distribute the unearned benefits of intensification efforts largely to private developers and investors.  Fast tracking developments and building on farmland do nothing to create affordable housing. Our planning and zoning tools fail to ensure that the benefits of intensification are shared between developers and communities so that lands are developed to create affordable homes and rental units. 

The central challenges we face are threefold:

  • the almost complete withdrawal of federal and provincial governments from funding social housing since 1993
  • that market dynamics in the private housing market are poorly aligned with the bold action needed to address our housing affordability challenges, and
  • we have incentivized market behaviours that reduce the supply of affordable housing rather than maintaining and increasing the supply of affordable units

The solution is not to double down on approaches that aren’t working. We must shift our thinking from “housing” as a financialized asset for investors to “housing” as “home” as an essential building block of social cohesion and of community life. “a place to call home” provides a stable foundation in supporting life transitions, meeting personal goals, and engaging in productive work and community service. 

Collectively, our homes are part of the network of social relations and community life that supports community building, civil society, and the exercise of local democracy.  It helps build and sustain a sense of place, of belonging and the ability to participate as an engaged member of the larger community.

Alternately, unstable and insecure housing contributes to breakdowns in social cohesion and human connection, and can worsen physical health, mental health and other stresses, lower education outcomes, and undermine the ability to secure and maintain employment.

Expand both the purpose and scope of the National Housing Strategy over the next fifteen years to eliminate homelessness and create affordable housing for all income groups:

  • Replace REIT subsidies with a funded plan to acquire and upgrade 300,000 units of private rental housing
  • A mixed income social housing program to build 900,000 units
  • Housing First/Transitional Housing of up to 150,000 units to end homelessness
  • A Supportive/Assisted Living program of up to 150,000 units
  • Strengthened rental protections to ensure affordability and reduce evictions

But what would such a plan look like?  Here’s a good start.

Create a national agreement, in cooperation with the provinces, on a plan and specific yearly targets, to fully eliminate homelessness within 10 years, that would include:

  • A commitment to fund the creation of 300,000 units of transitional and supportive non-profit housing across Canada over the next 15 years
  • A zero-tolerance policy on homelessness, including the ability to offer safe, self-contained housing to anyone that becomes homeless within 24 hours, and
  • Providing safe, stable, and permanent housing including access to supportive services for everyone who needs them within two weeks

Create the supply of a range of affordable housing options designed to ensure that everyone has a “place to call home.”  Design the system with the insights and active participation of people with lived experience, including:

  • A commitment to fund the creation of 1.5 million units of non-profit housing across Canada over the next 15 years
  • At a minimum, housing affordability policy should be developed to address the needs of households at each income decile, and
  • In the first ten years, give priority to housing the three deciles making up the bottom 30 per cent of households, the ones most at risk and with the fewest options
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