Basic income panel talks about hope, human rights, and the choice we make to allow poverty

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By Roderick Benns

Roderick Benns is the publisher of The Advocate. An award-winning author and journalist who grew up in Lindsay, he has written several books including Basic Income: How a Canadian Movement Could Change the World.

Basic income panel talks about hope, human rights, and the choice we make to allow poverty
L to R: Andrew Wallen, KLCFDC, Tim Ellis, Bert Lauwers, Rob Rainer, Josephine Grey, Chief John Hagarty.

While a panel discussion about basic income was happening in Lindsay last Friday, there was a three-hour line-up to sign up for basic income at the Lindsay Public Library – a line that spilled out onto the street.

The parallel events show there is great community support for the Ontario Basic Income Pilot, certainly from an growing number of ‘average citizens’ who are increasingly made up of the so-called working poor. These working poor are tired of a corporatist world that demands austerity from the people and yet retention of benefits for a privileged minority – and their numbers are rightly growing.

I was one of the panelists/speakers at the basic income event, which was essentially the Ontario Basic Income Network (OBIN) choosing to hold their annual meeting in our fair town. The Friday afternoon public discussion was meant to be a show of support for Lindsay and for the Ontario pilot getting underway here right now.

Basic income panel talks hope, human rights, and the choice of poverty
Roderick Benns.

The other panelists and speakers included: Chief John Hagarty, Lindsay’s forward-thinking police chief; Dr. Bert Lauwers, the progressive CEO of Ross Memorial Hospital; Mike Perry, Lindsay’s citizen of the year and the man most credited with spearheading a determined team that ultimately convinced the Province to pick Lindsay for the pilot; Tim Ellis, a member of OBIN and an erudite basic income advocate; Josephine Grey, a well-known human rights activist.

Rob Rainer, a long-time basic income advocate and the Ontario Basic Income Network’s tireless chair, also led this public meeting.

Chief Hagarty spoke about hope, not policing and crime. He acknowledged that, like other communities, Lindsay’s growing drug issue with fentanyl is a terrible thing. And yet he spoke about it in the context of social exclusion, not crime and punishment.

“How hopeless are you, beyond the addiction, that you need to disassociate yourself from life?” he asked the crowd.

How fortunate is Lindsay to have a police chief who wants to talk about social exclusion before he talks about crime?

Bert Lauwers, Ross’ CEO, told the crowd that allowing poverty was a social policy choice. He noted that we spend way too much time and money on acute care instead of the social determinants of health – which are essentially the living conditions that we experience.

“We have to re-purpose our economy to put human beings at the heart of our society,” Lauwers told the crowd, pointing to the better health outcomes of the more egalitarian Nordic nations.

How privileged is our town to have a hospital CEO saying we’ve got to have an income floor for people if we want to have better population health?

Mike Perry, Lindsay’s own basic income champion, told the story of how, when he was chair of the Kawartha Lakes Food Coalition, they never gave up on figuring out how to put Lindsay front and centre in the minds of Ontario bureaucrats.

At one point in the long process, a light bulb went off for the group when they realized ‘what if the Province is not actually putting out formal applications for the process?’

It was then that Perry and his team made sure they pitched Kawartha Lakes hard, pointing out not only its great need for the basic income program, but the City’s inherent advantages. This includes proximity to Queen’s Park, its robust network of social service agencies, and post-secondary and school board resources.

Oh…and he gave them Kawartha Dairy ice cream, too.

How lucky is Lindsay to have a community leader like this, who has such unrelenting drive to improve the fortunes of our town?

As for me, I spoke about the basic income we want and need, not some pale austerity version.

The basic income we need is grounded in values and principles which improve health and well-being for individuals and societies. It has to be sufficient income to meet basic needs and for people to live with dignity, regardless of work status.

It must respect human rights, human dignity and the concept of the common good. It builds on programs that also follows these kinds of principles, like the Canada Child Benefit, and replaces others that do not, such as paternalistic and stigmatizing social assistance programs.

The others may not have had ties to Lindsay but their knowledge of basic income and issues affecting our society was invaluable.

Tim Ellis brought up the ravaging effect of automation on our workers and how this is transforming the Canadian jobs’ landscape. He talked about the value of other kinds of work, too, like parenting, and how this goes unrewarded in our wage-labour focused society.

Josephine Grey told the crowd it was important to get people to understand that economic stability in their lives should be a human right. The right to human security and the right to choose one’s livelihood are enshrined in international law, she said.

When the sign-ups for basic income are complete, Lindsay will hopefully have about 2,000 people enrolled – or about 10 per cent of the town.

Mike Perry estimates that the basic income pilot will generate $50 million in local spending in the community by the time it’s complete.

Yes, basic income will be good for our local economy because the people that need the money most will be able to spend more on what they need for themselves and their families, most doing so locally.

Basic income will be even better for our society, for giving people the dignity they need to live and for providing an income floor from which they can construct a better life.

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