PHSD endorses universal basic income for all Canadians


SUDBURY—The Public Health Sudbury and Districts (PHSD) board passed a motion at its monthly meeting last week calling on the federal government to continue providing the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) and evolve it into some form of a guaranteed basic income for all Canadians during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond for financially challenged citizens. 

“This will be familiar to (board) members who were here in 2015,” said Dr. Penny Sutcliffe, chief medical officer of health for Public Health Sudbury and Districts (PHSD). “At that time, a motion was passed by the board and the provincial association calling for a  guaranteed basic income.”  

A briefing note Dr. Sutcliffe provided to board chair Rene Lapierre noted, “the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected Canadians with lower income or other marginality. The federal government’s temporary financial relief for vulnerable Canadians, (CERB) has assisted some vulnerable Canadians.”

“It presents an opportunity upon which to expand to create a basic income guarantee, ensuring long lasting opportunities for health equity among vulnerable Canadians,” said Dr. Sutcliffe. She further pointed out that income alone is the single strongest predictor of health and health improves at every rung on the income ladder. 

“Populations living in low income are disproportionately affected by virtually all physical and mental health problems and challenges. Nearly 21,000 people or 12.8 percent of the Greater Sudbury population live in poverty,” said Dr. Sutcliffe’s briefing note. She pointed out the pandemic has created widespread negative economic impacts which has increased the height and depth of poverty across Canada.

“The CERB and other measures have provided financial relief for many but do not apply to all Canadians, leaving many still vulnerable to the negative consequences of poverty including inadequate or unstable housing, food insecurity, and poorer mental and physical health,” Dr. Sutcliffe continued.

“Basically, what we are supporting here today is the same as what the board supported previously,” Dr. Sutcliffe told the board.

Board member Jacqueline Paquin said, “I know in a lot of workplaces it has been very difficult because they are short staffed and, in some cases, it has been difficult getting people back to work, but I understand how necessary this support is.”  

“The concern is that a guaranteed basic income is much broader than just the CERB and in regards to health benefits it is vital,” stated Dr. Sutcliffe. “I would say there has been a lot of research and evidence that shows there is definite evidence that there are health benefits with a guaranteed income.” 

The PHSD board’s motion, which passed unanimously, was an endorsement of similar resolutions passed by other public health boards across Ontario. This included letters to the prime minister, the deputy prime minister and the minister of finance.