Call it a reverse beauty pageant. After including a basic income measure in the budget earlier this year, some Ontario municipalities have already begun vying to be crowned the government’s test site.
A guaranteed minimum income, or “mincome” if you prefer the portmanteau, is being touted by the Liberal government as a way to reduce the wage gap and give some of the poorest and most vulnerable Ontarians a leg up.
While it’s early days yet, the Ministry of Community and Social Services (MCSS) confirmed it will be handling the implementation of the project, in conjunction with the Treasury Board. An MCSS spokesperson said the project is still in its “inception stage” and there have been no conversations with local governments.
But that hasn’t dissuaded some city councillors and mayors from getting their ducks in a row for when that time comes.
In Thunder Bay, Mayor Keith Hobbs brought the idea to the local intergovernmental affairs committee, and while it did not receive the traction he hoped for, he intends to bring the motion to city council and has already received informal backing from some councillors.
Hobbs said he firmly believes the city of nearly 110,000 "needs" to be the pilot site because it is struggling to cope with homelessness, addiction and issues related to indigenous people migrating to Thunder Bay, sans a safety net.
“Our hospitals and our jails are full of people. I call them lost souls: The people that are coming down to Thunder Bay with addictions, they don’t have any job to come down to,” Hobbs said.
Northern Development and Mines Minister Michael Gravelle, who is the Thunder Bay MPP, believes the city would be the perfect setting for a basic income pilot. Almost immediately after the budget came down, he said his office started receiving letters from hopeful constituents. Gravelle added he has already approached Community and Social Services Minister Helena Jaczek, though informally.
“I haven’t done any formal follow-up other than to make it clear that, when we are in a position where the decision is being made, I will be advocating for the City of Thunder Bay. I did indicate that I very much support Thunder Bay being the potential basic income pilot project … I’m looking forward for that more formal opportunity to come,” Gravelle said.
Lambton County is also hoping to be considered for the pilot site. County warden and Sarnia city councillor Bev MacDougall told QP Briefing she has met with her MPP, Progressive Conservative Bob Bailey to put forth a statement of interest.
"We were all keen to say, 'You know what, this needs to be trialed in communities of different size and different make-up in the province of Ontario'...It really was from our meeting and from our discussion about the success we've had in the past with (social services) pilots and the way we've been able to organize around new (social) ideas and programs, that we feel we would be an ideal partner with the government of Ontario," MacDougall said.
At this weekend's national convention in Winnipeg, the federal Liberals made it a priority resolution, and agreed to consult with provinces to “develop a poverty reduction strategy aimed at providing a minimum guaranteed income.” According to the resolution, a gap between the rich and poor can lead to social unrest, increased crime and violence – but a guaranteed income would create social security while being cost neutral, because it would ease the burden on health, justice, education and social welfare.
Back in February, Finance Minister Charles Sousa’s budget introduced the measure, saying the province “will test a growing view at home and abroad that a basic income could build on the success of minimum wage policies and increases in child benefits by providing more consistent and predictable support in the context of today’s dynamic labour market. The pilot would also test whether a basic income would provide a more efficient way of delivering income support, strengthen the attachment to the labour force, and achieve savings in other areas, such as health care and housing supports.”
The idea, while new to Ontario, is far from revolutionary. In the 1970s, Dauphin, Manitoba essentially eliminated poverty with a five-year basic income experiment, but that quietly withered without a final report.
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