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Canada’s CERB: How an emergency benefit designed for exposed people became a giant windfall for governments

“The protected make public policy, the unprotected live in it.”[1] - Peggy Noonan, Wall Street Journal, 2016 I frequent three online chat forums visited by low income people with disabilities in receipt of a program called the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP). For the last month, one of the hot topics has been the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) which will provide - as of this writing on May 16, 2020 - up to $8,000 to people who lost work because of the COVID19 pandemic and earned at least $5,000 last year. The CERB is one of the simplest and most straightforward income programs ever designed. Just one monthly amount of $2,000 with just 3 qualifying rules surrounding COVID19 and ‘Bingo’: you get it. But that is not what online…
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Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus provides lessons for COVID19 compensation

Christopher Marlowe was just 29 when he died in 1593 but his most famous play, The Tragicall History of Dr. Faustus, made its debut in the early 1600’s. Born in the same year as Shakespeare, the final version of Dr. Faustus was published in the year of Shakespeare’s death in 1616. The plague that hit two centuries earlier had permeated the imagination of 16th century Britain especially as this was an age that had little idea of what a vaccine might be or how one would work. “Are not thy bills hung up as monuments, Whereby whole cities have escap’d the plague, And thousand desperate maladies been cur’d?”[1] Indeed, both Marlowe and Shakespeare were fortunate to have lived a long generation before the resurgence of the plague in London in…
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COVID-19 and compensation lessons from the Barrie Tornado

This is a tale of what happens when governments attempt to compensate people for losses incurred in the context of a disaster.  When governments do that, the rich get compensated and the poor lose out. The rich own more and the poor own less.  And the poor pay less for things like shelter and food in the first instance. This is a cautionary tale that can instruct governments to compensate based on need and income as opposed to losses and how much they pay for things Listen to my story.   On May 31, 1985, a swarm of tornadoes broke out across southern Ontario. The one that hit Barrie was an almost 'unheard of' Category 5 while Category 2’s hit Orangeville, Dundalk and a few other towns especially along Lake…
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Recommending against clawbacks: Why is the federal government so reluctant to tell other governments how its money should be spent?

It took federal Minister Carla Qualtrough an agonizing 19 days to inform the public that she wanted Canada’s Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) to be exempt from clawbacks under provincial and territorial social assistance and disability support programs. The CERB was introduced on March 25, 2020, and her public admonition came on April 13 in a statement through her spokesperson to the Toronto Star. She did not make the announcement on television. She did not make the announcement at all.  “Our government believes the CERB needs to be considered exempt by provinces and territories in the same way as the Canada Child Benefit to ensure vulnerable Canadians do not fall behind,” said Marielle Hossack in an emailed statement. Some of us had been asking for this for over two weeks and…
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They departed a day apart: John Prine and Pat Capponi

On Sunday August 16, 1977, I drove my 1976 Honda Civic east on Kingston Road past Woodbine Avenue with no memory now what I may have been thinking about.  I was listening to the radio. A news flash came on –they didn’t call it ‘breaking’ back then. I don’t know what they called it but they said that Elvis Presley had died at the age of 42. I turned left on Brookside and stopped the car. I looked around and thought that some part of the world had come to an end. Just a few weeks earlier I had been shopping at Canadian Tire and was able to buy two tape cassettes they called 8-tracks of the ‘King’ singing his greatest hits. The 8-tracks were in a bin where the…
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Scarborough and the COVID19 response from governments

Just the other day, I was asked an interesting question by a concerned Scarborough resident who knew that I had worked in social policy with the provincial government. She also knew that I was someone who had studied and had written about the effects of social policy in Scarborough since I left government. Her question: “What will be the effect of the COVID19 crisis and how will we come out of it in Scarborough?”   I was actually surprised by my reply as I had not yet put the question to myself. Here is what I said as I thought through the question: First, you have to remember that Scarborough has more poverty than the rest of the City of Toronto, the GTA, and much of the rest of urbanized…
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The time for income tax auto-enrollment is now

Bee Lee Soh and I were members of Jean Yves Duclos advisory committee on poverty reduction which completed its work in August 2018. On the last day of our deliberations, we all decided that each of us would have an opportunity to raise the one issue of greatest importance to each of the 17 of us. Bee Lee is an anti-poverty activist who continues to live in poverty and she took her few minutes in front of Minister Duclos, his staff and the rest of us to make a plea for Government auto-enrollment for tax refunds. She explained that filing her taxes was the last thing that she would ever do when she was homeless. She told the Minister that people living in poverty often don’t know how to file…
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Hot’s Frozen Wake

(A short stream on delivering meals on wheels) Looking at the EE cooler starting to sing “The Martian Hop” after pronouncing EE - driving now down Curlew from the North to Bridgepoint. Forever sameness Thursdays using a google map to time it from 10:25 for the free half hour. All assembly starting from the Velcro frozen to the Velcro carry bag and plastic tray ready to jam bread and dessert plastic in the back of a car. Volunteers shout “Hi” from the back of a parked van wondering about overdue chocolate maybe dreaming of a cruise as finally warm enough to watch crags of ice melt for a short time and a visit to the ground level loo and a weekly cull of car garbage and mung from the back…
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And what are we to do with Charlie?

“Canada’s banknotes — one of our national symbols — have been fixated on monarchs and prime ministers for long enough. Civil rights pioneer Viola Desmond is the first, and so far only, Canadian to break that mould.” When we think about our money, the Toronto Star editorial concerning who should be depicted on our money is right ‘on the money’. For too long, we have restricted our modern bank notes and coinage to just two species: Prime Ministers and British royalty. The Star is right that this should change in a more wholesale way. Viola Desmond is just the first Canadian who was neither a PM nor a member of British Royalty to appear on a regular issue of our modern paper money. There have been many examples of commemorative…
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Tales from the deep end of the poverty pool: How Ontario Works keeps ODSP from rising and what Oliver Twist might ask

 Setting the scene In early 1941, the number of people with disabilities receiving ‘relief’ exceeded the number of non-disabled people for the first time since the early 1930’s. The reason was that the outbreak of World War II resulted in the cancellation of all relief for single people. General welfare was not reinstated for this group until 1958. Social assistance for people who don’t have disabilities has been renamed many times. Recipients were formally called ‘relief’ recipients from the 1930’s to the mid 1950’s, ‘welfare’ recipients from the late 1950’s until the 1990’s and Ontario Works recipients in the post millennial era. For people with disabilities, unless they were blind, they were called permanently unemployable (PUE) from the 1930’s to the early 1950’s, PUE and disabled from the mid 1950’s…
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