Halifax council votes to push for federal universal basic income

Click to play video: 'The case for universal basic income in post-pandemic Canada'
The case for universal basic income in post-pandemic Canada
In 1974, Canada conducted a landmark basic income experiment in a rural town in Manitoba. Now, decades later, as countries struggle with high unemployment rates and a global recession in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, debate around whether Canada should have a national basic income has resurfaced. – Sep 3, 2020

Halifax Regional Council has voted to urge the federal government to move forward with a guaranteed livable basic income in this country.

Coun. Waye Mason, who represents Halifax South Downtown, put forward the motion that asked council to request a letter from the mayor to the prime minister, ministers and premier of Nova Scotia.

The letter would call on government to implement a basic income, “ensuring everyone has sufficient income to meet their needs, which would go a long way towards eradicating poverty and homelessness, alleviating the pressure on municipalities to use their limited resources to fill gaps in our failing social safety net.”

Councillors voted 10-2 in favour of the motion during Tuesday’s council meeting. Councillors Trish Pudy and Paul Russell voted against it.

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“We are in a social crisis right now. Without programs like this, without new and innovative programs, they will only get worse,” Mason said.

His motion pointed out that the impacts of poverty have had an effect on municipalities, which have limited resources to deliver social supports.

“Basic income addresses key social determinants of health, such as income and housing, it can alleviate pressures on municipalities to address poverty and fill gaps in social supports, such as shelter, housing, food security and mental health,” it read.

During the 2021 federal election, the Green Party and NDP included livable basic income in their platforms, but the other major parties did not.

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Mayor Mike Savage, who served as a Liberal MP from 2004 to 2011, said “it’s time” for such a social net to exist and that it “should not be a political issue.”

“The cause of poverty-related issues, homelessness, health inequality, education inequality, environmental inequality — it seems pretty evident but it’s true that the cause of that is lack of income,” he said.

“I’m always very reluctant to tell other orders of government how to do their business. We’re advising what we think.  And I think it’s important that this be something that is considered.”

The motion said evidence shows that a federally-funded basic income can improve financial stability and quotes Coalition Canada Basic Income, an alliance of income advocacy groups.

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The coalition has previously made a submission to a House of Commons committee on COVID-19 recovery, recommending that the federal government create a national basic income guarantee for adults that is comparable to the $2,000 per month people received from the Canadian Economic Recovery Benefit (CERB) program.

A report released earlier this month by the Atlantic Provinces Economic Council (APEC), a Halifax-based economic think tank, said income support would reduce inequality, establish a sense of financial security and encourage savings.

Click to play video: '‘Poverty is expensive’: Toronto doctor says universal basic income actually costs society less'
‘Poverty is expensive’: Toronto doctor says universal basic income actually costs society less

The report also said funding the program would likely require increasing taxes or cutting government spending.

“One of the biggest risks is how this program would be funded over the long term,” Lana Asaff, a senior economist with APEC, said at the time.

“It’s quite expensive.”

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A report by the Parliamentary Budget Officer conducted in 2021 estimated that a national guaranteed basic income would cost nearly $88 billion in 2022-2023.

Asaff added that if social programs were cut to help pay for a basic income, there was a risk certain groups in society would be negatively affected.

The topic of guaranteed basic income has been discussed for decades, and was back in the forefront during the pandemic.

“This keeps coming back. When CERB came in in 2020, I remember the discussion just popped up again,” said Coun. Shawn Cleary during Tuesday’s council meeting.

“But if more municipalities, if more groups, if more citizens pressure our provinces and the federal government to discuss this — to look at this — we might actually make some head way finally on this kind of important universal social safety net and economic development driver.”

— with a file from The Canadian Press

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