The concept of a basic income – combining several existing income and social supports into a single, income-tested but otherwise unconditional cash benefit – has been debated for more than 200 years. It has drawn support, and criticism, from across the political spectrum, attacked or praised as either utopian socialism or minimal-state libertarianism. But has the whole debate just been settled?

On the Friday before the Thanksgiving long weekend, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau encouraged Canadians to support their local food bank in a photo op at a Metro grocery store in Ottawa.

But in Toronto, Valerie Tarasuk was outraged. Canada’s foremost expert on food insecurity couldn’t believe the government was giving money to food banks.

“It’s craziness,” she said. “People like me spend all this time figuring this stuff out and then you watch these policy decisions and you think, ‘Why are we wasting our time doing this research?’ Nobody’s using it.”

The Canadian Emergency Response Benefit CERB put cash in people’s hands, quickly, when COVID-19 hit. It was a smart and remarkable achievement. It looked like the beginnings of a basic income — but it wasn’t quite. It left out people who needed it. It got complicated with conditions, changes, interactions with other emergency benefits, and with provincial and territorial regimes. It confused applicants and recipients as their circumstances changed.

Now, CERB repayment demands are causing hardship, and while amnesty is needed that’s only a temporary reprieve, for some. The pandemic’s viral and economic toll is still rising. Long-standing inequalities and poverty are deepening and there’s no vaccine for that. If Canada hopes to withstand this crisis and “build back better” we need concrete government action on the path to a basic income. The human consequences of inaction are almost unthinkable.

Federal New Democratic Party leader Jagmeet Singh is the first federal party leader to support calls for implementing a basic income guarantee pilot program in P.E.I.

In an interview with The Guardian on Monday, Singh said his party campaigned on implementing a national basic income pilot project and said he would support such a pilot on P.E.I.

Singh’s statements on the subject followed a report by all-party special standing committee on poverty, which called for implementing a full basic income guarantee (BIG) on P.E.I.

Before the pandemic, half of Canadians were already struggling from paycheque to paycheque with little left over for savings, and household debt was at a record high. Few had enough set aside to pay the rent or put food on the table for even a short period of time. This situation wasn’t caused by COVID-19; it reflects changes that have been ongoing for decades. More than a third of the workforce was working in precarious employment — on contract, in temporary jobs, self-employed or working part-time when they would have preferred full-time work.

The economic shutdown that happened in March of this year revealed the inequality and economic insecurity people were already living with, and it has forced us to acknowledge the limitations of our existing social safety net. People displaced from their usual employment turned to employment insurance and learned that fewer than 40 per cent of them qualified for any support. Those who did qualify received payments too little even to pay the rent.

A Canada-wide basic income could increase the size of the economy by tens of billions of dollars a year and create hundreds of thousands of new jobs, a new research paper says.

In a report issued Wednesday, the Canadian Centre for Economic Analysis (CANCEA) looked at two potential models of a basic income, and found that both of them would raise about 2.3 million families above the federal poverty line.