Federal election would be a great time to have a discussion about basic income, says Saskatoon mayor

The four-term mayor of Saskatchewan’s largest city says an upcoming federal election would be a great time to have a policy discussion about a basic income guarantee.

Don Atchison, mayor of Saskatoon, thinks a basic income guarantee is “an interesting concept” to explore and one that “we need to think about.”

Also known as a guaranteed annual income, or negative income tax, the policy idea has been gaining steam thanks to support from high profile senators like Art EggletonHugh Segal, and Michael Meighen. After Calgary’s Mayor Naheed Nenshi said he was in favour of it at a national poverty conference, this was picked up by Leaders and Legacies and then later by national media. Edmonton’s Mayor Don Iveson also announced strong support for the initiative.

“The federal election would be good place to have these discussions,” says Atchison, although he noted a municipality has other responsibilities to deal with, from police and fire services, to waste management issues and more.

When it comes to other poverty reduction measures, Atchison points out that Saskatoon has been a national leader in attainable housing.

“The CMHC (Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation) rated us number one in Canada. Then the Province copied our program,” notes Atchison.

The mayor is a big believer in each person having a strong foundation.

“People need to have safe, clean housing to live in. That’s the foundation of a community. I think of the children all the time, and the better housing they live in, the better off their family will be, which leads to better education, which leads to better jobs.”

Atchison says his administration has worked to help the homeless in the community by working closely with the YWCA.

“And we’ve had tremendous success with that.”

The mayor notes that another area of social focus is Saskatoon’s indigenous population, which he estimates to be about 14 percent. The City works with the Saskatoon Tribal Council to solve issues from housing to transportation.

Some people, Atchison says, are very close to being able to afford their own home but their wages don’t always rise as fast as home price increases.

“The local private sector is also trying to innovate for people who are a little short,” says the mayor, such as pre-paying the new owner’s taxes for the first five years.

Atchison says he’s not a believer in putting all attainable housing in one area of the city, which leads to social segregation.

“I believe you need to be putting (affordable housing) throughout the community” to encourage integration, he says.


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