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The Ontario Basic Income Pilot was cut short when Premier Doug Ford's Conservatives were elected in 2018. Photo: Roderick Benns.

City to encourage conversation about basic income  

in Federal/Municipal by
The Ontario Basic Income Pilot was cut short when Premier Doug Ford's Conservatives were elected in 2018. Photo: Roderick Benns.

In a contested and close vote, Kawartha Lakes council approved a motion by Councillor Doug Elmslie to send letters to Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock member of parliament, Jamie Schmale, and federal finance minister Chrystia Freeland to encourage a meaningful discussion between Ottawa and the provinces on the issue of a universal basic income.

Universal basic income, or basic income for short, ensures everyone has sufficient income to meet basic needs and live with dignity. Basic income, in Canada, would look similar to the Canada Child Benefit. That is, as wages increase the benefit declines, but it declines progressively – not dollar for dollar.

In effect, children already get a basic income in Canada. So do seniors, in the form of old age security (OAS) and a guaranteed income supplement (GIS).

The goals of a basic income system are to alleviate poverty and replace other need-based social programs that potentially require greater bureaucratic involvement and have proven not to work given the rates of poverty that still exist.

The idea of basic income has gained momentum in Canada as automation increasingly replaces workers in manufacturing and other sectors of the economy, and as globalization has eroded traditional full-time work, leaving more people scrambling for part-time and contract work.

Elmslie asked council to support a federal bill that will establish a national basic income strategy. Four local non-profit organizations concerned with food security and affordable child care wrote to ask the city to support Bill C-273. The private member’s bill would develop, in cooperation with the provinces and territories, a national strategy for a universal basic income and possibly establish pilot projects. The proposal is expected to come before the House of Commons later this month.

“We had a trial of the universal basic income occur in Kawartha Lakes only to be brought to an abrupt conclusion by a change of government,” Elmslie said, referring to Premier Doug Ford’s cancellation of the Ontario Basic Income Pilot. The move was condemned globally by policy experts who were looking forward to mining the data after the pilot was finished.

“We are just coming through a pandemic and we are not sure what the economy will look like when we come out the other side. For 2,000 years we have been trying to deal with poverty unsuccessfully and it is still with us. It seems to be getting worse as the years go by. We need to have a conversation about basic income,” Elmslie said.

“The benefits of universal basic income far outweigh any downsides. Most studies show that mental health improves, visits to emergency rooms are reduced and crime is reduced. We don’t have all the answers yet and it would be so worthwhile to have the conversation and see what the possible implications of this program would be.”

“People who believe that this program is absolute socialism,” Elmslie added, “forget that when old age security was introduced, we introduced a guaranteed annual income for seniors, helping limit poverty for folks over the age of 65. Writing these letters to do a study and possibly reinstitute a trial would be useful.”

Elmslie reminded council that Mayor Andy Letham wanted the full trial to play out in Kawartha Lakes and publicly made his disappointment at the cancellation of the program known.

Councillor Tracy Richardson supported Elmslie’s motion saying, “There are a lot of vulnerable folks out there. We should support a look at this.”

Councillor Kathleen Seymour-Fagan did not agree responding, “This is not our business. We should stay out of this.”

Councillor Pat Dunn also opposed sending the letters. “The federal government has a $300 billion dollar deficit. The federal government doesn’t have any real money for another program. Old age security doesn’t work. We need to fix OAS, Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support before we introduce another unworkable program,” he said, assuming it would be an additional program instead of a replacement.

Deputy-mayor Patrick O’Reilly supported sending the letters to encourage conversation but did point out that a three-person blue ribbon commission in British Columbia recently recommended against a universal basic income program, instead arguing for more funding to programs already in place.

Councillor Emmett Yeo supported sending the letters but expressed concerns that, like CERB, a universal basic income “will make it hard for folks (like him) to find employees who actually want to work.”

Elmslie concluded, “Let’s look at basic income and see if it has merit. We need to try something different. It is our business. We had a trial that was cut short. I think the federal government and the provinces should have a talk about this issue.”

Council supported Elmslie’s motion with Councillors Dunn, Seymour-Fagan and Veale voting against the city encouraging a provincial-federal discussion on basic income.

Kirk is a retired high school history teacher and coach who has had a lifelong interest in politics at all levels. Since retiring, Kirk has spent the last three years doing freelance writing of all kinds for various platforms. Kirk can often be found sitting in the press gallery at City Hall observing and reporting on the vagaries of local government.

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