Protecting Workers and the Economy

This memo was sent to the Prime Minister’s Office, the Privy Council Office, and Employment and Social Development Canada on Friday July 17, 2020. 

It emerged from conversation between policy experts and advocates about next steps on income supports, as policy makers shift focus from emergency programs in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and economic crisis to ‘recovery.’

For years, workers, policy experts, economists, employers, and advocacy groups have been pointing out that our employment insurance (EI) system is inaccessible for many workers and is too slow and complex to be an effective stabilizer in major economic crises. This crisis has brought this into stark relief. 

The Canada Emergency Response Benefit was created as a time-limited income support to fill these gaps, and quickly became the largest income support program in Canada. It is set to wind down, but for the foreseeable future, millions of people in Canada will not have work to return to, will face significantly reduced schedules, and/or will continue to have care responsibilities. The current EI system needs to be reformed, to ensure it meets the needs of workers, including those who are most vulnerable to economic system failures and challenges. 

This memo lays out three principles to anchor reform: 

  1. Financing EI from general revenues
  2. Expanding access for workers 
  3. Ensuring adequacy of benefits

The memo also makes a series of recommendations as a starting point for putting these principles into action. 

It was written by Laurell Ritchie (EI Working Group – Good Jobs for All Coalition), Armine Yalnizyan (Atkinson Fellow on the Future of Workers), Mary Gellatly (Parkdale Community Legal Services, Fight for $15 and Fairness), Colette Murphy (Atkinson Foundation), and Nora Cole (Atkinson Foundation). Any errors are ours.

Additional contributors participated in discussions and contributed recommendations and ideas. They include: Michael Mendelson (Maytree), John Myles (University of Toronto [Professor Emeritus]), Tobias Novogrodsky (City of Toronto), Stephanie Procyk (United Way Greater Toronto), John Stapleton (Open Policy Ontario), and Garima Talwar Kapoor (Maytree). 

Thank you to all frontline workers and public servants who have worked so hard to meet people’s needs in these trying times.