THUNDER BAY – The City of Thunder Bay has added its voice to those calling for a basic income program in Canada.
City council unanimously voted to advocate for the policy to the federal government on Monday, with councillors arguing it represented a crucial step in eliminating poverty, and would ultimately save governments money.
Coun. Kristen Oliver, who introduced the motion, said she had been alarmed by data on regional household food insecurity recently presented to the Thunder Bay District Board of Health.
The federal government should consider a basic income as part of its COVID-19 recovery strategy to ensure everyone has enough to meet their essential needs, she argued.
Oliver pointed to the impact of a basic income pilot launched by the previous provincial government in three cities, including Thunder Bay. She had been moved by stories shared by local recipients at a panel discussion following the Ford government’s cancellation of that project in 2018.
“One gentleman spoke to his ability to purchase some tools and start his own business,” she said. “This seemed unattainable prior to the basic income project, but he was now on his way to growing a business and creating gainful opportunity for himself.”
“If done properly, I think this should be viewed as an investment in our communities, by generating more taxpayers.”
Business groups including the Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce also support the policy, she pointed out.
A basic income would ultimately save governments money by reducing strain on health and welfare systems, several councillors said.
“The research is pretty clear – a program like this saves money, whether it’s health care dollars, emergency costs, or employment insurance,” said Coun. Andrew Foulds.
Mayor Bill Mauro said a basic income might be as close as governments could get to a silver bullet in eliminating poverty. However, he cautioned councillors in promising savings. That would depend on how the program was designed, he said, emphasizing the policy was primarily about improving lives.
“I think [what] can’t be lost on us is what else is accomplished through a program like this that isn’t just economic,” he said. “What does it mean to someone in terms of their own personal space, their life, their ability to raise their children, to make decisions, to maybe start a business when they know they have a guaranteed safety net in place?”
A letter will be send on behalf of city council to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, and the city’s two MPs, among others.
Trudeau recently indicated his government has no immediate plans to move forward on such a policy.