By Roderick Benns
The City of Kingston has become the first municipality in Canada to call for the development of a basic income guarantee for all Canadians.
Council recently and unanimously passed a motion calling for a national discussion on the issue, hoping this will lead the provinces and federal government to work together to “consider, investigate, and develop a Basic Income Guarantee for all Canadians.”
A basic income guarantee is known by many names, including a guaranteed annual income, a minimum income and a negative income tax, among others. But the essence is that it ensures everyone an income that is sufficient to meet their basic needs, regardless of work status. It provides a direct cash transfer to the people who most need economic security.
Kingston Mayor Bryan Paterson says he believes a basic income “appeals to both the left and right on the political spectrum.”
“It’s a question of reaching out to those in need, but also in doing this in the most efficient way possible,” Paterson tells Leaders and Legacies, and basic income policy seems to meet both desired outcomes.
The mayor, an economist by training, says there is a sense that current system is inefficient and that there are better ways to spend tax dollars and make them go further. He acknowledges there are a lot of questions about how it might look, and how to transition from the current patchwork system of benefits.
Paterson points out that his municipality sees “the challenges with the current system,” including “the disincentives for work.”
As an example, he says that under the current welfare model people “are penalized for having assets.”
“A basic income guarantee wouldn’t do that,” he says, so someone doesn’t have to be completely destitute to receive some help.
The 2011 National Household Survey showed that 14.9 per cent of the Canadian population lives in low income circumstances, a percentage exceeded in Kingston where the percentage is closer to 15.4 per cent.
The mayor says Kingston resident and former Conservative Senator, Hugh Segal, has been out front on this issue for decades, and that a “number of community members have reached out personally to me to encourage this (motion).”
In the motion that passed, Council pointed out a number of converging factors and reasons to support basic income, including income insecurity, precarious employment, inequality, and adverse public health outcomes for people living in poverty. All of which, in turn, can lead to low levels of education, chronic stress, and criminal activity, which is more costly than poverty in the long run.
Long List of Mayors
Paterson joins a long list of other mayors across Canada who are speaking out in favour of the policy change, including big city mayors like Calgary’s Naheed Nenshi, Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson, and Halifax Mayor Mike Savage.
He says the Kingston resolution will be forwarded to all municipalities in Ontario with the request that they consider indicating their own support for the initiative. It will also be forwarded to the Association of Municipalities of Ontario and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. The hope is that these groups will engage with the provincial and federal governments to further its case.
Other indicators of a building interest in a basic income guarantee include:
- The election of an NDP government in Alberta, which was once a Conservative bastion
- Families, Children and Social Development Minister Jean-Yves Duclos, an economist by training, signalled strong support for a basic income guarantee in a 2008 Institute for Research on Public Policy brief, as first published in the Post.
- The election of an Ontario Liberal government that is keen on bold poverty reduction measures
- The support of an increasing number of health-related organizations, such as the Ontario Public Health Association and the Canadian Medical Association.
- The poverty reduction report solicited by the Saskatchewan government and its recommendation to support a basic income policy
- The election of a Liberal government in Prince Edward Island earlier this year that indicated its support for basic income during the campaign