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Manitoba mayor agrees with basic income guarantee policy but only with work incentives

By Roderick Benns

As mayors across Canada are asked to comment on a basic income guarantee policy, Winkler, Manitoba Mayor Martin Harder is offering qualified support for such a policy.

Harder took part in a national survey conducted by a Toronto-area, social purpose news site called Leaders and Legacies. He was one of 327 Canadian mayors who were contacted to gauge municipal support for basic income policy. The mayors largely represent the most populous centres in Canada, while allowing for participation from all provinces and territories.

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi and Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson galvanized discussion on this issue earlier this spring when they spoke out strongly in favour of a basic income policy.

Harder was one of the first municipal leaders to respond to the survey, indicating his qualified support for basic income. His city, Winkler, is about 100 kilometres southwest of Winnipeg. It’s a growing hub of about 11,000 and is largely Mennonite.

“I believe that everyone has the right to a basic standard of living,” Harder tells Leaders and Legacies, “but what I have an issue with is people not having any initiative” for themselves.

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.

Recognizing that welfare is not working well either, and that it acts as a work disincentive, Harder says balance is needed between a system that might breed mediocrity (basic income) and another one that could be overly capitalistic (a society with no safety nets.)

“I’ve had a life afforded to me that has been filled with opportunities, but those opportunities were not on the backs of others,” he says, suggesting an overly-generous basic income program might be counterproductive to society from a work ethic angle.

“We don’t want to create a complacent lifestyle,” he adds.

However, experiments done in Dauphin, Manitoba in the 1970s, Brazil in 2004 (and ongoing), a two-year pilot in Namibia from 2008-2010, and India in 2011, among other examples, may suggest otherwise. Speaking about the most recent India experiment, renowned economist Guy Standing said that people worked more, not less, when their basic needs were met.

Despite what he calls the “danger of safety nets” Harder says a basic income policy might work if there was sufficient incentive for people to work.

“You don’t want to make it so comfortable that there’s no desire to better yourself,” he says.

Harder is also a big believer in charity because he believes this “brings out the best in people.”

He says a prime example was this weekend’s Harvest Festival parade in Winkler, along with the Fire Department’s “boot drive.”

“This year the proceeds went to a local fireman’s family whose son has leukemia,” as well as another immunity-related issue. “Normally, they collect $5,000 on the parade route — this year it was over $17,000,” the mayor says.

He adds that a local business had another, separate fundraiser that generated an additional $7000.

“That…is what builds people’s lives with a true value of community.”




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