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Commons committee asks Liberals to look to basic income to help ‘gig’ workers

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OTTAWA — A cross-party committee of MPs says it’s time for the government to take a deeper look at a guaranteed minimum income to help workers caught in the tectonic shifts of the “gig economy.”

The MPs’ report on declines in traditional, full-time employment in favour of short-term contract work says the government needs to explore new types of income supports “that do not depend upon someone having a job.”

To that end, the committee calls on federal officials to review a minimum-income program, which is typically a no-strings-attached government payment to every citizen that replaces an assortment of targeted benefits, as an option to help those between gigs who fall through the existing social safety net.

The report calls for a revamp of the employment-insurance system to widen that net, reducing the minimum number of hours someone must work before qualifying for benefits, boosting payments to low-wage workers, and reconsidering the benefits available to self-employed workers. It also calls on the government to modernize federal labour regulations.

MPs on the committee nod to some recent federal efforts, such as a soon-to-be-launched tax credit for individuals to offset the cost of work-training courses.

But here, too, the committee urges the government to pay close attention to the design of the Canada Training Benefit to make sure it is accessible to low-wage, part-time or self-employed workers and to make every effort to ensure they use the program.

The training benefit, to launched in late 2020, would provide a $250 refundable tax credit each year, accumulating over time if it isn’t used, to Canadians earning between $10,000 and about $150,000 a year. The plan is expected to cost $710 million over five years.

Federal officials have considered the idea among a wide range of possibilities to reshape social-safety-net programs that were designed for a workforce that needed help at certain fairly predictable points, such as upon losing a full-time job, having children and retiring. Lifetimes of freelancing, contracts and multiple part-time jobs punctuated by returns to school don’t fit the model.

A discussion paper crafted in December 2018 for the deputy minister at Employment and Social Development Canada identified rising income inequality and the growth of the “online platform economy” — exemplified by companies such as Uber, Lyft and Airbnb, which broker work while doing everything possible not to become formal employers — among the top issues to tackle in a redesign of federal policies.

Officials wanted to look at a small number of policy areas to keep work manageable and “stress-testing” alternative policies under “more extreme scenarios” than officials had previously envisioned, such as if unemployment spiked. The Canadian Press obtained a copy of that paper and accompanying briefing note under the access-to-information law.

The Commons committee says its report can form the foundation of future federal research and planning but stresses the need to revamp the social safety net.

“The nature of work is changing. Yet, the blueprints of our social safety net and our foundational labour legislation were developed in a different time,” the report, released Monday, reads.

“In this new world of work, it is essential that government and employers take necessary measures to protect workers from precariousness, the effects of which can be mitigated with efficient policies and social safety nets.”

The Canadian Press

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Liberals to reject Senate changes to solitary confinement bill

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OTTAWA — The Liberals are poised to reject the Senate’s amendments to a bill that aims to end the practice of solitary confinement.

The government’s response to the Senate’s package of amendments details why the Liberals won’t accept a key change requiring a judge to approve any decision to isolate a prisoner beyond 48 hours.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale says in a letter to the Senate that such a change would increase the workload of provincial courts and require the appointment of new judges to compensate.

Sen. Kim Pate, a lifelong advocate for prisoners’ rights, disagrees.

She says the government is spending money on hiring external reviewers for solitary confinement decisions with dollars that could be used to hire more judges, who have greater expertise and independence.

Pate says the law would be unconstitutional if the Liberals pass the bill without the Senate’s amendments.

The Canadian Press


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Chief military judge’s court martial in limbo after deputy recuses himself

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OTTAWA — The court martial for Canada’s chief military judge is in limbo after the judge overseeing the trial, who happens to be deputy to the accused, agreed not to hear the case over conflict-of-interest concerns.

Lt.-Col. Louis-Vincent d’Auteuil also outlined the reasons why he felt the military’s other three sitting judges would not be able to preside over Col. Mario Dutil’s trial in an impartial manner.

That has left the fate of Dutil’s court martial, seen by some as a critical test for the military-justice system, up in the air.

“I met briefly with the prosecutors and asked them to inform me formally as to what the intent is,” Dutil’s lawyer, Philippe-Luc Boutin, said Tuesday. “So I don’t know. We’re just in limbo and waiting for the prosecution to make a decision.”

Dutil was charged with eight counts in relation to allegations he had an inappropriate relationship with a subordinate and knowingly signed a travel claim for $927.60 that contained false information.

Four of the charges were dropped at the start of the court martial last week, where Boutin served d’Auteuil with a subpoena before challenging the presiding judge’s impartiality and asking him to recuse himself.

A publication ban on details of that portion of the hearing, which included Dutil testifying about his relationship with d’Auteuil, whom he described as a “confidant,” has since been lifted.

In a decision written in French agreeing to Boutin’s request, d’Auteuil said it was reasonable for observers to believe he would be biased because of his relationship to several potential witnesses who are employees of the court.

“It has been shown that a well-informed person who studied the question in depth, in a realistic and practical way, would conclude that because of the existing links between certain court stenographers and myself, I would be biased,” he wrote.

He added that he did not feel he could appoint one of the military’s other three judges to take his place because they either had similar ties to the witnesses or didn’t have the right language skills or expertise for such a complex trial.

Dutil also had an acrimonious relationship with one of the three judges, which d’Auteuil said was another reason not to appoint that judge to preside over the court martial.

“Public confidence in the court-martial system and the function of a military judge could be undermined if I appoint a replacement military judge from among those who are currently eligible,” d’Auteuil concluded.

While military prosecutors could not be reached for comment on Tuesday, they have previously defended the decision to press forward with a court martial rather than through a civilian court.

But Boutin believed it was obvious from the start that the military-justice system would have a difficult time handling the case, and that “this long process could have been avoided.”

Prosecutors could try to get a reserve military judge, Boutin said, or send the file to the civilian system where Crown prosecutors would have to weigh whether it was feasible and in the public interest to move ahead with a trial.

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press


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