‘Have we created an industry called poverty?’: Councillor

By Roderick Benns

City of Kawartha Lakes Councillor Doug Elmslie.

The Ontario basic income pilot is a critical, “watershed event” for Lindsay, says City of Kawartha Lakes Councillor Doug Elmslie.

Elmslie, who is well-known on council for his support of various anti-poverty initiatives, says he sees an opportunity with this new initiative to really make substantive changes in how we tackle poverty.

“There are so many people, so many organizations, all well-meaning, still doing the same thing to fight poverty and it hasn’t worked,” the Ward 6 councillor tells The Lindsay Advocate.

“I just get the sense that we’ve created an industry called poverty,” he says, “and so we need to redirect our efforts” to find a better way – and basic income may be a big part of that puzzle.

The councillor says he isn’t sure the model as developed by the Province is perfect, and nor is he happy that it was restricted to Lindsay alone, within Kawartha Lakes.

“But let’s make it as successful as possible” so it will eventually lead to a program for everyone, he says.

Elmslie says there is room for the Ontario basic income pilot to help many people who have low income, but he is most concerned with the so-called working poor.

“I look at a family of four, with two parents working minimum wage jobs” and yet it’s possible they may need to use foodbanks and don’t have extended health benefits like dental.

“That’s not right.”

In fact, earning a minimum wage really doesn’t go as far as it once did. In 1976 Ontario’s minimum wage equalled 25 per cent of the average productivity of an hour’s labour, whereas today it’s worth just 17 per cent, according to McMaster University’s Jim Stanford, a professor of economics.

The minimum wage will rise to $14 an hour on New Years Day, 2018. It will rise to $15 an hour on January 1, 2019, and will then continue to rise annually with inflation.

Elmslie knows there is fear about people sitting around on basic income instead of working, but he believes that might be about five per cent of the people.

“The rest want to get ahead, and they’ll see this as an opportunity.”

Aside from basic income, the councillor points to all the hard work that was done to produce the Poverty Reduction Strategy of 2012, which continues to be worked on at various committee levels.

“We didn’t want a report that would just sit on a shelf – we needed a living document,” he says.

Elmslie feels they were successful in engaging people during that process. He is also happy that the City of Kawartha Lakes’ council adopted the strategy within the official plan.

The Advocate will bring further updates from these committees in the weeks and months ahead.

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