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?

Residents across the province are dealing with unbearably cold weather this week.

That includes many who do not have a home to stay in at night.

Fortunately for the homeless in Lethbridge, Alpha House has a solution. The organization operates the Lethbridge Stabilization Centre and Shelter, located at 802 2 Avenue North.

The shelter provides 24/7 service for anyone who needs a place to stay warm and safe.

Environment Canada says the frigid temperatures across Manitoba will likely continue all week. The agency says very cold air shattered records in the prairies already, with all time lows reaching -49.9 C northern Saskatchewan. The province is under an extreme cold warning after high pressure in the north allowed the chilly air mass to hover above southern Manitoba, where wind chill values sit at -40 or colder.

Manitoba’s Liberals say this weather is a reminder of the need for immediate action to help Winnipeg’s homeless. Leader Dougald Lamont says Manitobans need to act now or people could die in this cold. Lamont is recommending 24-hour warming centres, free masks in bus shelters, and a central command centre to coordinate outreach work.

Last year, as millions of Canadians were told they may have to stay home, close businesses, and physically and socially isolate from the outside world, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) — a federal government initiative to pay $2,000 per month to Canadians in financial crisis due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s been a controversial move, but not completely unprecedented in North America. The CERB has a lot in common with the concept of Universal Basic Income , UBI as it is commonly known.

Though they’re different from each other, the main idea is the same: a government puts a set amount of money into the pockets of citizens, monthly or annually. The goal is to eliminate poverty, grow the middle class, and boost the economy, according to UBI Works, a group that advocates for the policy.

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.