Saturday, March 28, 2020

On universal relief

Aside from the usual mantra that "NDP = CPC!", one of the most regularly-repeated Lib talking points criticizing the NDP's work trying to get coronavirus relief to all Canadians has been to point out that there's no single source of information available which contains the list of everybody who might receive help.

So let's talk about the real choices involved - and why the Libs' position pointing to the lack of a single source of information as a basis for limiting substantive relief is ultimately indefensible.

One of the core questions involved in any relief effort is its scope: whether the goal should be to include everybody in emergency funding, or to means-test and otherwise target what's going out. And the "not everybody's in the database!" talking point serves primarily as an excuse for saying we have no choice but to pursue the latter option.

Which, to put it simply, is asinine. If the best-case scenario is to reach 100% of the population, we're far better off starting with the best source of information available and adding recipients from there to fill in the gap, rather than starting from zero.

And that goes doubly given the obvious risks of setting up an application process outside or beyond the scope of anything else under federal jurisdiction.

The federal government has already shifted responsibility for its individual benefit away from EI after recognizing the current system wasn't set up to handle the previous iteration. But that means access to the core funding intended to keep Canadians afloat through a public health emergency will be running through a completely new and untested system. (Needless to say, the experience of federal civil servants with Phoenix should serve as a giant red flag on that front.)

So what's the effect on people in line to receive the benefit? Let's compare the Libs' scheme to an automatic helicopter drop to all Canadians in (say) the CRA's database.

For people already in the system, the Libs' scheme imposes unnecessary costs in time and effort on both the individuals applying, and the new mechanism set up to receive the applications. (And as many have pointed out, anybody who doesn't need the help can simply be taxed back next year when the system isn't so overwhelmed.)

And even for people left out of current information sources, a system of paying by default would be helpful. If you're going to need to apply to a new federal bureaucracy for benefits either way, surely it would be better to be among a relatively small number of people required to do so, rather than potentially getting stuck at the back of a backlog as millions of applications converge on the same system.

In sum, the lack of a complete list of people needing benefits doesn't represent a valid excuse for imposing either means-testing or mandatory registration under circumstances where it's possible to help people faster and more efficiently. And the people who left waiting for their emergency help will have reason to remember who's chosen to put barriers in their way.


  1. I'm retired . There is no lost income to replace. Sending me money would deprive people who are prevented from working.