Region supports basic income guarantee

Posted on February 6, 2016 in Social Security Debates – News/Local
February 5, 2016.   By Allan Benner, The Tribune

While several Regional councillors had concerns about throwing their support behind a call for a guaranteed basic income, the majority couldn’t wait to support it.

Following a presentation from Niagara Poverty Reduction Network representatives at Thursday’s regional council meeting, councillors voted against a recommendation to refer the discussion to the committee level for a report, and instead opted to vote in favour of a motion calling on provincial and federal governments to work towards developing a guaranteed basic income – adding their support to a motion approved by the City of Kingston in December.

During her presentation, NPRN representative Rhonda Barron discussed a “strong and compelling rationale for supporting the need for a basic income guarantee.”

“This is the direct result of economic policies – the availability of good stable paying jobs is in short supply,” she said. “We know that working is no longer a pathway out of poverty, when working full time at minimum wage means that you are still living below the poverty line.”

She said automation is replacing human labour, and it’s taking away many people’s livelihoods.

“We know that artificial intelligence has replaced many low and middle income jobs and that those jobs are not coming back,” Barron said. “The full implications of the new machine age are going to take at least a century to play out, but for now the growing pains are very real.”

She said opponents of the idea say it will cost too much, it’s a recipe for laziness and there’s a “firmly entrenched ideology that if I work hard so should you.”

But when the cost associated with poverty are added up, such as health care, criminal justice, lost work and productivity, she said it’s poverty that is costing too much “and we can’t afford not to address it.”

“The Niagara (Community) Observatory did a study in 2012 that tells us the cost of the consequences of poverty in Niagara are $1.38-billion,” she said.

“If we are paying for poverty, why not pay to prevent it?”

But several councillors wanted to see more evidence supporting the initiative before they would sign off on the concept.

St. Catharines Coun. Tim Rigby said council needs to have some more detail about the dollars and cents of the initiative before making a decision.

St. Catharines Coun. Brian Heit questioned the cost estimates.

“That’s huge,” he said. “I’d like to know how they got that number.”

Niagara Falls Coun. Bob Gale wanted to more information about communities where a guaranteed basic income had previously been implemented, and he wanted to know why that information wasn’t provided earlier.

“I’d like to look at comparative cities, if you don’t mind, and what they’ve done with this and how it works,” he said.

“I need a lot more information,” said St. Catharines Coun. Bruce Timms.

“The presentation speaks to the mission and the goals. I think we all share that. … But I confess that I have a much different vision on how we get there.”

He said has has difficulty with offering people a basic income “unconditionally,” without a work requirement.

Timms said he shares concerns that it will cost too much, especially considering the national and provincial deficits.

The majority of council, however, was more supportive.

“This is something that could be a game-changer across the country,” said Pelham Mayor David Augustyn.

Niagara Falls Coun. Selina Volpatti said a guaranteed basic income “leads to greater respect for everyone in our community.”

“I certainly hope it goes to the right people and gets the direction it deserves,” she said.

“I’m prepared to support the resolution right here right now,” said Thorold Regional Coun. Henry D’Angela, who put the motion on the floor to deal with the issue immediately, rather than wait until it came up later in the meeting.

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