Home » Basic Income/Healthy Communities » Reliable, basic income would lead to better self-worth and a better life: Thunder Bay mayor

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

By Roderick Benns

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.”




  1. I disagree with this platform. I have worked in mental health and addictions for many years. Giving people money that have known addictions is a terrible idea. And where exactly are you to house these people?. I am a single mother and remained on the housing list for over two years and was never approached about a unit or helped in any way. My calls for inquiry about availability, and my current place on the waiting list were always responded with “there is no housing available”. So is this platform really going to work? I feel it’s just a ploy to obtain more provincial funding which will be obtained and hidden in the works of the current building of the event centre. I really feel that our mayor should support a platform which supports programing for teenagers, the products of the addicted persons, and ensure an education and healthy start to their own lives. Life skills, seamless transition from broken homes, exposure to addiction, crime, to healthy active living. So that thunder bay can look forward to a. Future generation of mentally sound, goal orientated people. It’s something to think about.

    • Roderick Benns

      Hi Kerrie,

      Most people who support basic income policy do so with the belief that addictions and housing supports must also be strong. Basic income cannot replace these needs. Creating mentally strong people, as you put it, is absolutely the goal. But part of the reason there are so many mental health issues in the first place is the tremendous anxiety of precarious work employment situations, lack of affordable daycare, or parents worried about being able to adequately feed their children. Basic income isn’t a cure-all — but it’s a tremendous step forward in working on these social determinants of health.

  2. Dear Editor,

    I am writing in regard to Saturday’s article “Defeat poverty with income, housing, says Mayor.”

    I would like to echo Mayor Hobbs comments and add a bit more information. A guaranteed annual income has many positive outcomes to recommend it.
    1) It reduces red tape. There would no longer be provincial welfare offices making decisions about individual’s or families’ entitlement to benefits under provincial law and policy. The system would be administered under the Canadian Revenue Agency using income as a means to determine eligibility. Cost savings on administration would result.
    2) Stigma and stress would be reduced significantly. Anyone who depends on social assistance or disability benefits can tell you about all the rules and regulations they must comply with to gain and maintain entitlement. These can be very stressful intrusions into someone’s life that often take away a person’s self esteem and initiative.
    3) Health status of all our population would improve along with a reduction in health care spending. As well, educational outcomes improved.

    A pilot project was undertaken in Canada.

    MINCOME was an experimental Canadian basic income project that was held in Dauphin, Manitoba during the 1970s.
    Manitoban economist Evelyn Forget conducted an analysis of the program in 2009 which was published in 2011. She found that only new mothers and teenagers worked substantially less. Mothers with newborns stopped working because they wanted to stay at home longer with their babies, and teenagers worked less because they weren’t under as much pressure to support their families, which resulted in more teenagers graduating. In addition, those who continued to work were given more opportunities to choose what type of work they did. Forget found that in the period that Mincome was administered, hospital visits dropped 8.5 percent, with fewer incidents of work-related injuries, and fewer emergency room visits from car accidents and domestic abuse. Additionally, the period saw a reduction in rates of psychiatric hospitalization, and in the number of mental illness-related consultations with health professionals. (from Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MINCOME)

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