Mayor urges Ottawa to start a guaranteed basic income

Troy Shantz

Sarnia’s mayor says the time has come for Canada to implement a guaranteed basic income.

The concept of a new and simplified income security program has gained traction during the pandemic, with the federal government’s Canada Emergency Relief Benefit, or CERB, coming close to a basic income measure.

Last week, Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley sent a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau calling for both a municipal assistance program and a basic income plan.

A basic income top-up would eliminate the bureaucracy and provide stability for people living below the poverty line, he said.

“You keep it simple and you put in caps on who would be eligible,” Bradley told The Journal.

Mike Bradley

In 2016, Sarnia-Lambton sought to host an Ontario guaranteed basic income pilot project. It had the support of city council, Lambton County council, and Sarnia-Lambton’s Conservative MP and MPP.

Four other communities were eventually choses, but the trial program was quickly scrapped by the incoming Conservative government.

Finland and The Netherlands have basic income programs, and a Canadian version known as “Mincome” was tried in Dauphin, Manitoba between 1974 and 1979. About 1,000 families living below the poverty line were ‘topped-up’ with monthly payouts calculated on their income and expenses.

Studies found families involved in the project had health improvements, fewer children going into CAS care, and higher high school graduation rates.

“The reports were pretty good out of that,” Bradley said. “There’s always the cliché that people just won’t go to work but it was proven that’s not the case,” he said of the study.

“This has always been my frustration — what do people think they do with the money? Put it in their Swiss bank account? Save it for that extra yacht?”

Karen Mathewson, who chairs the local Poverty Reduction Network, said a guaranteed basic income could help a lot of local residents make ends meet, including those with mental and physical disabilities.

But the money won’t go far unless the sources of poverty are addressed, including the need for a higher minimum wage and affordable, adequate housing, she said.

“I think it would be really helpful to a lot of people to have a basic income guarantee,” said Mathewson, who works at Community Legal Assistance Sarnia.

“But the provincial government and federal government need look at all these other issues at the same time.”

In his letter, Mayor Bradley also laid out a plan to replace various ad-hoc municipal programs with a redistribution of tax revenues. In 2007, he and other Canadian mayors proposed municipalities get one per cent of the GST, which, he said, would have provided an additional $13 million annually for a city of Sarnia’s size.

“That money would have given us stability. We wouldn’t have to come back with a cap in hand,” he said.