Local economies would benefit from basic income policy: Victoria mayor

The mayor of Victoria, Lisa Helps, says basic income policy and robust local economies go hand in hand.

“There is a strong link between having a basic income and creating a strong local economy. There is more money to circulate and it supports the ‘buy local’ movement,” she says.

“So that means it’s good for the people who need more to live on, but also for the goods and services being sold by our business community,” Helps says.

Helps is among 327 Canadian mayors who were invited to complete a national survey by Leaders and Legacies, in order to gauge municipal level support for a basic income guarantee policy. Her city – Victoria – represents the third provincial capital leader to support the policy, along with Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, and St. John’s, Newfoundland.

A common definition of a basic income guarantee ensures everyone an income sufficient to meet basic needs and live with dignity, regardless of work status. It involves a regular, reliable distribution of money from government to people to help ensure total income sufficient to meet common, basic needs.

Helps says that out of the 13 municipalities that make up the Greater Victoria Area, with a population of 345,000, her city has the lowest average and median income in the region, at $38,000 a year.

“That’s not affordable with the cost of housing and food,” she says.

That’s why Helps likes to talk about how to create prosperity for all, rather than ‘combat poverty.’ This reframing is valuable, she says, because it serves to keep thinking about growth and improvement, rather than in a deficit model.

The Federal Election

Helps is hopeful that the federal party leaders will begin to address inequality issues more rigorously. She points out that the NDP have touched on important issues with their promise of a $15 universal child care program and the Liberals’ promise of an enhanced Canada Child Tax Benefit is welcome news. The Green Party, she notes, has talked the most consistently about inequality – including a guaranteed liveable income.

“I don’t think we can continue with the status quo in Canada. I want to see the rubber hit the road on these issues,” she says.

Helps tells Leaders and Legacies that she already has her plane ticket booked for Ottawa in early December to petition the new government for action on basic income policy and other inequality issues, such as housing and homelessness. The federal election will be held October 19th.

Once she knows who the ministers are and what portfolios they hold, Helps says she will be on top of these issues for Victoria.

She knows that mental health and addictions support, in addition to housing, would have to go hand in hand with a basic income guarantee.

Cities and Citizens Making a Difference

The mayor says she will continue to advocate and speak out about basic income and other issues that prevent economic prosperity for all people.

“I work to pass motions to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. I focus on local economic development strategies. I also believe in creating social enterprises so that we can generate revenue and create a social good at the same time.”

Helps says governments at all levels “need to pay attention to low income earners” because getting such earners more fully engaged in the economy benefits everyone.

Citizens need to make noise, write letters, and pressure politicians, she says, to bring about the changes they want to see. At the same time, she believes it can only be effective “if elected officials are listening.”

“The election is a great time to ask if there’s any listening going on. We can point to the income inequality we are seeing in Canada. We can ask everyone what they’re going to do about it. And we need to be very specific in our advocacy.”

“We’re working hard in the cities here and it would be nice to have a federal government that could help out,” Helps says.

Reliable, basic income would lead to better self-worth and a better life: Thunder Bay mayor

Having a reliable income creates stronger self-worth and leads to a better life, says Mayor Keith Hobbs of Thunder Bay.

That’s why the mayor supports a basic income guarantee policy, to help stem the tide of poverty, addiction, and homelessness that is afflicting too many Thunder Bay residents.

Hobbs was one of 327 Canadian mayors who were invited to complete a national survey by Leaders and Legacies, in order to gauge municipal level support for a basic income guarantee policy.

A common definition of a basic income guarantee ensures everyone an income sufficient to meet basic needs and live with dignity, regardless of work status. It involves a regular, reliable distribution of money from government to people to help ensure total income sufficient to meet common, basic needs.

“If you have a basic income, you have a certain degree of self-worth. A set income and a ‘housing first’ strategy would work wonders,” he says.

About 17,000 people live in low-income situations in Thunder Bay, the mayor says, and “a basic income would help with their needs.”

Housing First

Just as important as basic income is being housed, according to the mayor.

“Homelessness is a big issue in Thunder Bay,” says the mayor, and they want to move to a ‘Housing First’ model as soon as possible.

Housing first is an approach to ending homelessness that centres on quickly moving people who are homeless into independent, permanent housing. Additional supports and services are then provided as needed. The underlying thinking is that people can more easily move forward with a stable foundation — and studies show this is less expensive than constantly dealing with the social costs of homelessness.

The mayor is looking at both Edmonton and Medicine Hat, two Alberta cities, to find answers to his city’s homelessness issue. In Medicine Hat, for example, between 2009 and 2015, 885 homeless people were housed. Medicine Hat’s goal is to get people housed within 10 days of knowing they are homeless.

The catch, according to Hobbs, is that the Alberta city is funded at a much higher level by its province than Thunder Bay is. “All things being equal, we get very little from the Province and nothing from the Feds, who are getting out of housing supports.”

The mayor says he does walkabouts in his city, a picturesque centre of 122,000 on the north shore of Lake Superior, and he knows there are severe social issues. He points out that Thunder Bay has a significant indigenous population. People who leave their reserves from farther north end up in Thunder Bay, the largest urban area in northwestern Ontario. Once they leave their reserve, says the mayor, the federal government will no longer assist them. There are no immediate social safety nets to draw upon, he explains.

One of the city’s most widely admired programs is Shelter House, which was acknowledged to be highly effective in a study completed by the University of Victoria. The program helps 15 of the most marginalized people to be taken off the streets. Their addictions are treated and they are housed until they are ready to move on.

“They are not being arrested or taking up a hospital bed. This project is working and we’re going to keep funding as much as we can — and pitching it to the Province to fund,” so that more than 15 people at a time can be assisted, he says.

Where is the leadership?

Hobbs says people are starving for leadership on the question of how municipalities are supposed to cope with the depth of social challenges they are facing.

“The current (Conservative) party is not helping. The federal Liberals before them didn’t either,” he says.

While he acknowledges the premier of Ontario, Kathleen Wynne, said she’s committed to eradicating homelessness, it’s “not good enough” until we see action.

“Municipalities are left carrying the bag.”

Hobbs says citizens need to bring these issues of poverty reduction and basic income policy to the attention of federal level candidates and to the Province.

“People are acting apathetic. Talk to service groups. Talk to unions. Be vocal – election time is a great time for people to speak out.”

For his part, Mayor Hobbs says he will be “looking at parties and candidates who are going to help fix these issues.”

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.


Basic income guarantee and healthy minimum wage go hand in hand, says retired professor

Roderick Benns recently interviewed Toni Pickard about basic income policy. Pickard was a law professor at Queen’s University before she retired and is now the co-founder of the Kingston Action Group for a Basic Income Guarantee. 

BennsWe hear often that basic income could replace the need for higher minimum wages. Many point out that with the scarcity of jobs, a better minimum wage will only reach a minority of people anyway. What do you believe?

Pickard: For me, minimum wages and basic income go together like bread and butter. Together they are wonderful. Each alone serves a purpose, but only one leaves a lot to be desired. Some recent media discussion seems premised on the view that the two are an either-or proposition. I don’t see why. They have different conceptual bases, different beneficiaries and different payers. There’s no need to choose between them.

Minimum wages are for those who have jobs, obviously. They’re about decent pay for work, and an end to the false assumption that working people and their employers have equal bargaining power. That might be true for highly sought individuals at high salaried levels but it’s not true for most of us. The wages are paid for by employers.

Basic income is for those without sufficient income to live decently, without regard to their job status and is paid collectively. At the very least, it’s about an end to hunger, homelessness and other forms of destitution and alleviation from income insecurity in face of potential job loss. Basic income is paid for by all of us.

From self-interest, employers seeking profits want to keep wage rates as low as is consistent with getting the necessary work done. Our collective self-interest is to ensure basic income levels sufficient to lift people out of poverty and to provide an income floor for everyone else to arrest a free fall into poverty should financial calamity hit. Once these differences are understood clearly, it seems obvious to me why we need both.

Working together, the two will put an adequate income into the hands of all those who didn’t before have enough to live decently. Together they provide the greatest nourishment for the economy. People living on low incomes need to spend all the money they have so the money paid out will continue to circulate in the economy (unlike the $684 billion of ‘dead money’ said to be stored in corporate bank accounts, doing the economy no good whatsoever). And the money will be spent close to home, supporting local businesses, increasing local employment opportunities, building up local economies and increasing tax revenues.

It’s true that the number of job holders is dwindling. Canada’s rate of labour participation hit a 13 year low in December of 2014.  It will almost certainly continue to drop given globalization, austerity policies and, most worrisome, rapidly developing technology which is affecting almost all job categories. I’m not at all sure, however, that the absolute number of minimum wage jobs is decreasing. For the moment, their proportion of all jobs is increasing. According to Stats Canada, almost half the 59,000 new jobs created in May 2015 were part-time jobs.

I know some people believe that if done properly and paid at adequate levels, basic income will obviate the need for minimum wage legislation. I think the idea is that individuals with an adequate basic income will no longer be forced to accept whatever job can be had in order to live. While that’s true, I can’t agree that therefore minimum wage legislation won’t be needed.

First, even if smaller numbers of people will be working for minimum wages in the future, almost certainly there will be millions who still do. Happily, basic income will prevent hunger and homelessness, but basic is basic and not very satisfying. Most people able to work in the job market will want to improve their lives and prospects if possible. I don’t believe that those who can find work will all have the wherewithal to stand up to employers by insisting on a decent wage. Nor are such people likely to be unionized. Without minimum wage legislation employers will be able to exploit vulnerable job seekers and then basic income, paid through taxes, will end up subsidizing private businesses.

I believe that taxpayers should not be called on to subsidize private businesses through provision of a basic income. Both a fair distribution of the cost of doing business and market efficiency are best served by having a legislated minimum wage as well. Fairness argues that those who profit personally and directly from the work of others, not the taxpayers at large, should pay the expenses of producing their profits. If owners who had been skimping on wages choose to close up shop in face of minimum wage legislation, that shouldn’t be an economic concern. If market theory works at all, they’ll be replaced by more efficient competitors.

To my mind, ending minimum wage laws leaves those most in need of the law’s protection without it, valuing profit making over human well-being. That some basic income recipients might be willing to accept very low wages does not justify abandoning minimum wage protection for working people at large. Basic income is a good thing but it gets nowhere near equalizing bargaining power between job seekers and employers.

BennsWill a basic income shrink the pool of people willing to do work? Will it ‘hollow out’ our labour force, as some fear?

Pickard: No, I don’t believe it will be what’s usually called a ‘work disincentive’. That’s a widespread concern, but the evidence from basic income trials of all kinds in many different places and in different time periods simply doesn’t bear the prediction out. In the Dauphin experiment in Manitoba in the 1970’s, the impact of basic income on primary wage earners was negligible. With respect to secondary and tertiary earners in a family, there was a small impact due to high school students completing their degrees rather than leaving to help support the family and, in a period before maternity leaves were commonplace, young mothers staying home longer with infants and young children.

A pilot in a very different culture and different historical period – within the last 5 years in India — showed even more positive results. Those receiving the income actually increased their paid labour participation and engaged in some entrepreneurial activities. Similar results can be found in almost all studies wherever and whenever the experiment has been tried. Since basic income provides relief from stress resulting in better health, more energy, time freed up from scrambling to make ends meet, etc., it’s understandable that people who receive it are more able to work or start up small businesses. And since it furnishes what’s basic only, it’s understandable that people want to do what they can to improve their living standard.

But the more important point is that even if basic income were to ‘hollow out’ the labour force, that shouldn’t worry anyone. We all know the labour market is shrinking. There won’t be enough jobs for all the people who are willing and able to work. So ‘hollowing out’ the ‘work force’ is not a problem. The real problem is what to do about the forces beyond our control. Even the Canadian government’s power is limited. No government, no matter how creative and caring its policies, can stop the progress of globalization and automation. What’s needed is for them all, federal, provincial and municipal, to take a clear-eyed look at the impact of those forces in order to find ways to buffer us against the damage they will continue to inflict.

Basic income isn’t part of the problem, it’s part of the solution.

Ottawa man says a basic income guarantee would have changed the trajectory of his life

By Roderick Benns

From the time he was a toddler, John Dunn was bounced around 13 times from one Ontario foster home to the next until he turned 18. He was originally taken into care due to complications from his mother’s severe — and often suicidal — bi-polar disorder and alcoholism, and was separated from his three siblings in the process.

There was often abuse, and he knows the experiences left an imprint on the shape of his life.

“I think I began to develop a constant mourning…of friends, family, and pretty well anything I began to become familiar with,” Dunn, now 44, tells Leaders and Legacies.

His foster home experiences “had devastating effects on how I saw myself, my confidence, and how I deal with people and authority figures.”

He didn’t really appreciate what he had gone through until he finally had an emotional breakdown at the age of 32. He began to seek therapy to try and figure out what was wrong, “and why I could never hold a job more than a few months at a time without quitting or getting fired for making mistakes, forgetting things, getting overly frustrated, and hating himself for it.”

He was soon diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, having memory issues, and ADHD.

When he left foster care at age 18, Dunn thought he was free. He didn’t realize that what he considered freedom would simply become a web of precarious work and poverty traps that he has spent a lifetime trying to free himself from. He soon realized, instead, that he had no support at all to help him transition into a life.

“I was alone, and very, very broken.”

Life on Social Assistance

Dunn thought about going to university but felt intimidated by even walking into the building, “let alone figuring out where I was ever going to get the money to pay for it.” He says he didn’t know about school loans back then and just figured he couldn’t go because he didn’t have any family to help.

The Ottawa man admits he has had a checkered employment past due to his life experiences. He has done everything from factory work, to video editing, to working as a messenger. He even worked a year at CBC as a tech support. However, he doesn’t consider himself to have any particular area of expertise, “since, like my childhood, I never seemed to be able to stay anywhere for any length of time.”

For the last year, he has been living on social assistance in Ottawa, the city he has called home for more than a decade. It isn’t enough to live on, says Dunn, and he points out that he doesn’t smoke and has never gotten into drugs. He also gave up drinking nearly two years ago.

The Ottawa man says he gets approximately $625 a month in total through social assistance. His monthly budget is as follows:

  • Rent: $400 for a basement room
  • Bus Pass: $100
  • Groceries: $60
  • Phone: $40
  • Entertainment: $25 (coffee shops, etc.)

“Right now, I typically run out of groceries by mid-month,” Dunn says. When he gets too hungry, he knows will have to start “the degrading process of asking others for food or a couple of dollars here and there.”

E-book initiative

To try and earn a little more money and to be of service to others, Dunn has been writing a‘For Regular People’ series of e-books. The first book is ‘Reading and Understanding Canadian Legislation’ and it walks the reader through the basics of how to read legislation by describing its basic elements.

The second book in the series he is currently writing is ‘Advocacy and Change Using Canadian Legislation’ which will document actual examples of advocacy which have already been done to help people in various situations based on, or while using, legislation as their core guides.

Dunn, who is motivated to write these based on his own experiences with the system, also created a documentary for CBC Radio in 2002 called “Too Many Stops,” in which he takes the listener on a virtual subway ride through life in foster care.

Life with a Basic Income Guarantee instead of welfare

A basic income guarantee – a policy that would ensure no person in Canada would ever fall below a set, annual income threshold — is currently being considered by policy makers and in jurisdictions across Canada. This includes the government of Prince Edward Island, the federal Liberal Party and Green Party, the mayors of Edmonton and Calgary, and high profile senators, among others.

While there are many types of basic income, many feel that a guaranteed annual income of $18,000 to $20,000 for individuals would be the threshold to keep people out of poverty.

When asked how a basic income guarantee from the government set at $1500 per month would change his life, Dunn was overwhelmed at the thought of this level of support.

“It would be a miracle in many ways. Not just financially, but emotionally and mentally,” he says.

“I could also actually do some of the things many people take for granted, like maybe go out to a movie…or buy a coffee for a friend for once instead of always being the one who is treated.”

Dunn says he would get some healthier food for his cat, who has been a friend and companion for 10 years. Then, thinking about himself, he adds “I could even get healthy food, too, instead of always the cheapest of the cheap which is not always” the best for people.

Dunn says if he had to sum it up in a word, he says a basic income would give him a feeling of “dignity.”

When asked how a basic income would change his day-to-day thinking, knowing it would prevent him from slipping into poverty, Dunn was enthusiastic about what that would mean. “If I lose my work…because of accidents, or my own mistakes, or, in the case of abusive managers…and my post-traumatic reactions to them, I would not have to go into panic mode,” he says.

He says it isn’t a good feeling to think he is going to lose his basement room that he rents, or risk losing his pet cat.

“I would not have to go into the extreme stress I go into repeatedly when looking for work in a full-time mode all day long every day, getting rejection after rejection.”

Since the entire welfare bureaucracy would be eliminated under almost any basic income guarantee model, Dunn notes he would no longer have to spend his time applying for welfare, “tying up their staff who are already overworked and have no time to deal effectively with all the clients they must process every day.”

“I would be able to just keep my ears open for the right job at the right time as I find them, in a much more relaxed and natural way.”

When asked what he might have done after leaving the foster care system at the age of 18, if a basic income guarantee had already been in place in Canada, Dunn says he definitely would have opened up a savings account to start.

“I may have seen a future in education. I may have decided to go to college or university because having some money allows for that type of thinking.”

​Once he put away some money, he figures he likely could have gotten a car.

“Which could also open up driving jobs, or other jobs which I might be able to do but are not within the reach of public transit,” he explains.

Dunn says he would simply have had “more dignity and self-worth,” if a basic income guarantee was there for him when he transitioned into adulthood.

Everything always seemed as if it were for someone else, he says.

“So I never tried — and I never had anyone to support me or to give me pep talks. If only we could go back. Maybe I would have been a lawyer, a stock broker, a pilot, a financial advisor, a writer, a documentary producer — a person with dreams…and a means to accomplish those dreams.”

“At the least, it would have been the possibility to strive toward any one of these passions.”

Segal says if Liberals put basic income in platform, it will force rivals to respond

The Honourable Hugh Segal.

Retired Conservative Senator, Hugh Segal.

By Roderick Benns

If there’s one thing retired Conservative Senator Hugh Segal knows a thing or two about, it’s political strategy. Segal was chief of staff to former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney in the 1990s and associate secretary of cabinet in Ontario in the 1980s.

So when he thinks about the Liberal Party of Canada’s policy resolutions last year, about supporting a basic income guarantee, he knows how much they have potentially differentiated themselves from their main rivals.

“I think for the Liberal Party to say ‘we’re going to do pilot projects’ is a very prudent and constructive thing to say. They’re on the side of trying something new, with all the appropriate calibration and assessment,” Segal tells Leaders and Legacies. The retired senator – and now master of Massey College – has been a long-time proponent of basic income policy.

“If it (a basic income policy) ends up in their actual platform, then that will mean the NDP and the Conservatives will have to respond.”

Segal refers to the 2014 federal Liberal policy convention, where two resolutions were made and accepted by delegates that steer the party toward a basic income guarantee for working-age Canadians. However, this does not mean it will necessarily find its way into the party’s platform for this fall’s federal election.

Segal says that if the Liberals did put some kind of basic income guarantee in their platform, it would at least ensure the issue of poverty “will actually be discussed.”

“In the 2011 election the word ‘poverty’ never once came up. So who has the best approach would be a great debate,” he says.

When asked if he every broached the topic of basic income to Brian Mulroney’s government in the early 1990s, when he was serving as Mulroney’s chief of staff, Segal said indeed he had.

“Not only did I broach it, I chaired an interdepartmental committee on income security…and we looked at the means for moving in this direction.”

What the government eventually decided to focus on, though, says Segal, was to “radically change the structure of family allowance, tilted toward those with greater need, and to end universality.”

He points out the government was faced with an austerity mindset near the end of their reign in 1992-93.


The Honourable Michael Meighen.

The Honourable Michael Meighen.

While Segal has been the most vocal Conservative proponent for basic income policy for many years, he is now being joined by another prominent retired Conservative. Distinguished philanthropist and former Senator Michael Meighen, has now also spoken out in favour of pilot projects, declaring the policy to be “very attractive on paper,” and that it deserves to be tested.

Meighen advocated for a basic income guarantee under the banner of Conservative Party leader, Robert Stanfield, when he ran for office in the early 1970s.

Ontario’s association of health units green lights basic income as policy

Medical officers of health and boards of health members from across Ontario are now officially calling for provincial and federal governments to bring in a basic income guarantee – more momentum on an issue that is attracting national attention.

The Association of Local Public Health Agencies (alPHa) is a not-for-profit organization that provides leadership to the boards of health and public health units in Ontario. They voted on Monday to endorse a proposal that stemmed from the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit’s support of basic income.

In their resolution, alPHa points out that “1,745,900 Ontarians, or 13.9 percent of the population, live in low income according to the 2011 National Household Survey after-tax low-income measure.”

They define a basic income guarantee as a “cash transfer from government to citizens not tied to labour market participation,” enough to ensure “everyone an income sufficient to meet basic needs and live with dignity, regardless of work status…”

The resolution also points out that basic income “resembles income guarantees currently provided in Canada for seniors and children, which have contributed to health improvements in those age groups.”

poverty 4

Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit’s Associate Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Lisa Simon, is involved with a health equity working group, where there are joint members between alPHa and the Ontario Public Health Association. After this group facilitated a panel discussion recently on basic income at an Ontario-wide public health conference, she then brought it to her own board of health. They endorsed the concept in Simcoe Muskoka and supported her submission of the Ontario-wide resolution and backgrounder.

Simon says her health unit committed in 2012 to focusing on the social determinants of health as the best strategy for public health advocacy. Within the social determinants list, ‘income and income distribution’ is the first determinant considered to ensure good health.

In an earlier interview with Leaders and Legacies, Simon says she is hopeful for more movement from the adoption of this proposal by alPHa.

“We provide expertise in the area of prevention and in the health of the population so when we make a policy recommendation that we feel is aligned” with these goals, “we hope it will be considered strongly,” says Simon.

Second prominent Conservative speaks out in favour of basic income pilot projects

Retired Conservative Senator Michael Meighen says it’s time for governments to set up pilot projects across Canada to give a basic income guarantee a chance as future policy.

In an interview with Leaders and Legacies in Toronto, Meighen says the idea is “very attractive on paper” so it will be important to follow this through with real-world testing.

“That’s where pilot projects come in – we have to test it,” says Meighen, who notes that if the pilots are successful, then the policy becomes easier to sell, politically.

Meighen, who is also a well-known lawyer and philanthropist, is the second prominent Tory to speak out recently about a basic income guarantee. Retired Conservative Senator Hugh Segal spoke to Leaders and Legacies recently about this issue, and Segal has been a long-time proponent of the policy.

Meighen points out that when he was a Conservative candidate in Montreal, running to be an MP in the elections of 1972 and 1974, he advocated for a basic income guarantee under the banner of Conservative Party leader, Robert Stanfield. While Meighen wasn’t successful in attaining a seat during those elections (and Stanfield himself never led his party to victory), the policy always struck him as something that deserved a second look.

Citing the growing chorus of voices who want to see pilot projects, including Liberal Premier Wade MacLauchlan of Prince Edward Island and big city Alberta mayors, Naheed Nenshiand Don Iveson, Meighen says it will be important to get the right mix of urban and rural, along with geographic variation for any pilot projects.

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi vows to take ‘leadership’ on basic income guarantee issue

Mayor Nenshi feature

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi.

By Roderick Benns

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi called for “brave steps” in the fight against inequality and vowed to take leadership on pushing for a basic income guarantee.

Speaking to a National Poverty Reduction Summit in Ottawa on May 7, Nenshi told a capacity crowd that it’s up to Canada’s mayors to take leadership on important issues, like reducing poverty.

“The frustrating thing is that we know what the answers are.”

Bringing up the idea of a guaranteed annual income (or basic income guarantee) – and noting that this is just an extension of the Child Tax Credit, except that it would be for all Canadians who might drop below the poverty line – he called for courage from politicians to take steps to deal with poverty.

Pointing to his own immigrant family’s roots, he says he has the lived experience of poverty. “Like many immigrant families, we worked hard and had times of struggle. The core of our success as a nation is that we are all in this together. We need to look after one another.”

The first Muslim mayor of a major North American city, Nenshi’s parents came from Tanzania. Nenshi was awarded the ‘World Mayor’ prize in 2014 by the City Mayors Foundation and was the first Canadian mayor to win this award.

The mayor’s comments come on the heels of a provincial election in Prince Edward Island in which all parties supported the advancement of a basic income guarantee. The Liberal government under Wade MacLauchlan (which won the election) went so far as to call for a model program, not just a pilot, with potential for long-term established benefits:

“We’d be actively interested in pursuing that (Basic Income Guarantee)…I’d call it a model program and build in a commitment to evidence-based research and action-based research,” he said at an all-candidate’s debate.

Sheila Regehr, chair of the Basic Income Canada Network, says it is “very exciting” to hear about Nenshi taking leadership on the issue of a basic income guarantee.

“I hope his colleagues in municipalities across Canada will engage with him. Certainly they are the order of government closest to people and face, first-hand, the problems that gaps in income security create for their communities, she says.”

Basic Income Canada Network Chair, Sheila Regehr.

The chair of the Basic Income Canada Network, Sheila Regehr.

Regehr points out there is solid evidence of the individual and community-level benefits of a basic income, from Dauphin, Manitoba in the 1970s, through international programs, to current Canadian research on the wellbeing of seniors and families with children who receive guaranteed incomes.

“The Basic Income Canada Network hopes more Canadians, like Mayor Nenshi, will realize that the foundation is already built. He described this as a brave step — and it is also a smart one,” says Regehr.

Alberta’s big city mayors bring capacity crowd to their feet at national summit on poverty

Don Iveson, mayor of Edmonton.

Don Iveson, mayor of Edmonton.

By Roderick Benns

Two of Canada’s most dynamic and change-focused mayors brought two capacity crowds to their feet at the National Poverty Reduction Summit in Ottawa.

Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson and Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, were both harbingers of massive, grassroots level change sweeping Alberta over the past few years. Now, with the NDP displacing 44 years of Progressive Conservative rule at the provincial level, both men were looking forward to working with a new change-oriented government to advance their own municipal agendas.

Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson, who spoke yesterday at the summit, was elected in 2013 and immediately brought the weight of his office toward reducing poverty in his city.

Iveson was just 34 when he was elected as mayor and immediately began bridge building with the business community and city organizations. He created the Mayor’s Task Force to Eliminate Poverty in Edmonton within one generation, making no apologies for the word ‘elimination.’

“We have to think inter-generationally” on these important issues, to get it right for the future, not just for the politically expedient short term, he says.

“I’d rather do the right thing and lose the next election,” then do the wrong thing and win, he says.

Iveson says he is constantly challenging himself to build a city that is “uplifting for all.”

To that end, his poverty task force is not only focused on a generational fix for poverty, he is also ensuring that indigenous people are at the table from the beginning.

Edmonton’s mayor says that poverty is not just about a lack of money, but rather a lack of full inclusion from participation in public life. He notes that the Cree word for poverty doesn’t even refer to ‘money,’ but rather deprivation in general.

“For this work to be meaningful, it has to be based on the lived experiences of others. This is the most Canadian thing we can do.”

He says if people are more stable, earning more for their families, it’s better for the economy, too. “But it’s also the right thing to do.”

Iveson says he is pleased that businesses in Edmonton see the poverty elimination goal as achievable, along with community-level organizations, noting that cities are good at building big tents without the complexity of political party affiliations.

He says the poverty task force has seven key areas they are focusing on: Economic security, early childhood education, community well-being, education, health and wellness, justice and democratic participation, and housing and transportation. He notes that housing should always connect to transportation to improve mobility for everyone.

All of these seven points, Iveson says, are connected to the social determinants of health and are therefore crucial.

As he closed his remarks, Edmonton’s mayor says he is only doing his part in a timeline of change that has been needed for some time. He chided the federal government for their lack of participation and cooperation on files of importance to cities.

“We’re trying to build a movement,” and it will require real partnerships and leadership at all levels – including federal.

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi Supports Basic Income Guarantee

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi says the scourge of poverty keeps him up at night.

Speaking to the National Poverty Reduction Summit Thursday morning, Nenshi asks the crowd why poverty levels have virtually remained the same for a generation, despite all the good people doing good things, and despite all the great stories that advocates can point to.

“We’re not doing it right. A lot of this is government policy, and those in government need to be brave” in the fight against poverty and inequality.

Naheed Nenshi, mayor of Calgary.

Naheed Nenshi, mayor of Calgary.

The first Muslim mayor of a major North American city, Nenshi is the son of immigrants who came from Tanzania. Pointing to his own immigrant family’s roots, he says he has the lived experience of poverty. “Like many immigrant families, we worked hard and had times of struggle.”

Growing up in a working class neighbourhood, Nenshi says they didn’t have much money but they had “extraordinary opportunity.” These opportunities included a great public school, to a quality transit system that enabled them to get around, to a community that cared about their success. Nenshi and his sister both worked part time from the age of 14 onward.

“The core of our success as a nation is that we are all in this together. We need to look after one another.”

Calgary’s poverty reduction strategy, initiated by Nenshi, is called Enough for All. The strategy has three key outcomes: by 2023, 95% of all people living in Calgary are at or above Statistics Canada’s Low-Income Cut-off (LICO) rates; by 2023, 90% of all people living in Calgary are at or above 125% of LICO rates; by 2018, Calgarians consider reducing poverty to be a high priority.

The overall goal is to reduce poverty by 50 percent by 2023.

Nenshi says it’s up to Canada’s mayors to take leadership on important issues, like reducing poverty.

“The frustrating thing is that we know what the answers are.”

Bringing up the idea of a basic income guarantee – and noting that this is just an extension of the Child Tax Credit except for all Canadians who might drop below the poverty line – he called for “brave steps” and vowed to take leadership on this particular issue.

In his closing remarks, Nenshi says his immigrant family story is actually an “ordinary story.”

“An ordinary family is supported extraordinarily by a community. That is the promise of our country. Every single person…deserves the chance to live a great Canadian life.”

Nenshi was awarded the ‘World Mayor’ prize in 2014 by the City Mayors Foundation and was the first Canadian mayor to win this award.

The National Poverty Reduction Summit is being hosted by Tamarack and Vibrant Communities Canada.