As measures to flatten the COVID-19 curve are implemented across Canada, many Canadians are not only faced with the threat of the virus, but also increased threats to their food security. However, these threats are not equally distributed. Communities in Nunavut have suffered from food insecurity disproportionately to the rest of Canada for decades as a result of historical and geographic factors, which are now being compounded by the logistical and economic challenges that accompany the virus’ spread across the country.

As Canada starts to slowly recover from the COVID pandemic, housing and poverty experts are worried many cities will see a jump in homelessness.

A recent study conducted by a Columbia University professor estimates that homelessness could grow by as much as 45 per cent in the United States due to a COVID-induced economic downturn. Experts in Canada say there is no guarantee the homeless population will grow as quickly here as it does in the U.S., but they have no doubt it’s going to happen.

On Saturday May 30, 2020, in large red letters in the Toronto Star’s Insight section, the question is asked: “Is the time ripe for a basic income?”

Beside the headline, some supposedly provocative figures are mashed together:

“$2000 – Monthly amount of the Canada Emergency Response Benefit

$151.7 billion – Total emergency spending to date including $40 billion to 8 million on CERB

$86 billion – Estimated annual cost of a basic income the last time it was looked at

$260 billion – Revised estimated deficit, $8 billion higher than last reported.”

I think what the headline and the numbers are trying to acknowledge is that, as a nation, we suddenly agreed with the idea of handing out large amounts of money to our residents who lost income because of the COVID19 crisis. We also proved that it was possible to pay out that amount of money quickly.

The Great Depression of the 1930s gave us the Bank of Canada, Employment Insurance (EI) and federal equalization payments. The Great Recession of 2008 produced a revolution in monetary policy and a legacy of concern about household debt.

Will the Great Lockdown of 2020 bequeath us guaranteed universal income?

A lot of things are hard to take for granted after two months of pandemic — and one of them is food: what we eat, where it comes from, and how we get it. It’s also laid bare how intricate, interwoven and vulnerable to disruption and sudden change our food systems are. Gisèle Yasmeen, Executive Director of Food Secure Canada — a national alliance of organizations and individuals working to improve food security — discusses how the pandemic has revealed the weaknesses of our food systems, on both global and national levels.

How you feel about the idea of the government giving people free money depends a lot on where you sit on the political spectrum. For some, a universal basic income (UBI) is a sensible way to fight poverty and share prosperity while, for others, it’s an invitation to sloth and moral decay. But, until this year, it was mostly an idea that lived on the margins of the political mainstream, debated and discussed in academic circles and overlooked by almost everyone else. Then, as with so many other things, COVID-19 changed everything.

Professor Valerie Tarasuk, with the University of Toronto, is an expert on food insecurity and says food banks are the last resort for Canadians.

She feels a universal basic income would help people avoid having to turn to food banks in the first place.

“We can think of food banks as a kind of the canary in the coal mine, that it when people end up in those places. It’s a signal to us that our system of income supports isn’t sufficient or that there’s a crack in it that’s causing some people to tumble down like that,” she says. “Because using a food bank is really a strategy of last resort. It’s not something that Canadians do easily.