ONTARIO, CANADA: Smiths Falls council reverses decision, votes to lobby for basic income pilot
In a reversal of a decision last December, the council of the Eastern Ontario town Smiths Falls has voted to send a delegate to an upcoming convention of municipalities to lobby for the town’s selection in Ontario’s basic income pilot study.
Background: Ontario’s Pilot Plans
The Canadian province of Ontario is currently in the consultation phase of the design of a pilot study of a basic income guarantee. According to the recommendations of the project adviser Hugh Segal, the pilot should test a guaranteed minimum income of approximately $1320 per month, plus an additional $500 for those with disabilities, which would replace the province’s current welfare and disability programs (Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program) for at least three years. Segal proposes that this basic income guarantee take the form of a negative income tax, in which participants with no income would receive the full $1320 cash transfer, with no strings attached. The amount of the transfer would be gradually clawed back with additional earnings, with the result that participants whose income remains sufficiently high would receive no money as a result of participation in the pilot. The pilot will likely be designed to assess a variety of outcomes, such as health, food security, education, and employment.
While the final design of the pilot has not yet been announced, Segal has recommended that it include the selection of three saturation sites: communities in which every adult resident would be assured of the guaranteed minimum income. Saturation sites allow the province to investigate the effects of a basic income guarantee at a community level (such as effects on crime, utilization of public services, and civic participation), as well as to examine the process of administering the program within an entire municipality. (Segal advises that government test the basic income guarantee in such saturation in addition to conducting a randomized control trial in a large urban area.)
Segal further suggests that three saturation sites be chosen to represent three different “faces” of the province: Southern Ontario, Northern Ontario, and indigenous communities. He recommends that the communities be relatively geographically isolated, to limit “contagion” effects from surrounding communities, and to have stable populations. (For more discussion of the desired characteristics of saturation sites, see “Finding a Better Way: A Basic Income Pilot Project for Ontario”.)
The final design of the study is expected to be announced in April 2017, after which the pilot will enter its implementation phase.
New Support from Smiths Falls Council
Smiths Falls, an Eastern Ontario town of around 9,000 residents, now plans to lobby the provincial government for selection as one of the saturation sites. On January 16, 2017, the town’s council voted to send a delegate to the Rural Ontario Municipal Association (ROMA) Conference, which will take place at the end of the month in Toronto. At the conference, municipal delegates will have an opportunity to present their cases before Ontario’s Ministry of Community and Social Services (MCSS).
The council’s vote reversed a decision of December 19, 2016, when it voted 3-2 against sending a delegate to ROMA to lobby for the town’s selection in the pilot — a decision that defied the wishes of Mayor Shawn Pankow and incited protests among the Smiths Falls residents.
Prior to the December 19 meeting, Pankow had written to MCSS, expressing a desire that the provincial government consider Smiths Falls as a site for its basic income pilot. This action was taken without the knowledge of full council, leading some councillors to hesitate endorsing the proposal (with one later stating that he had felt “blindsided” by the mayor’s action). Pankow himself was unable to attend the meeting during which the council voted down the motion to lobby in favor of the pilot, having been stuck in holiday traffic en route from Ottawa.
The December 19 vote was not a vote against participation in the pilot per se (as the provincial government could still select Smith Falls for the pilot, even if the town itself does not produce a delegate lobby for it), and not all councillors who cast negative votes were themselves opposed to the idea of a basic income guarantee (or even, necessarily, its implementation in Smiths Falls). Nonetheless, some councillors did use the opportunity to voice their general opposition to basic income. Councillor Dawn Quinn, for example, was widely cited in the press for her assertions that the distribution of unconditional cash transfers is the wrong approach to poverty and that, instead, poor people must learn how to better budget their money.
The council’s initial decision faced a backlash from residents. One resident, Carol Anne Knapp, started a petition in the days after the vote, calling upon the council to conduct a re-vote on the matter. In early January, Knapp and another resident, Darlene Kantor, interrupted a city council meeting to demand the council support efforts to bring the basic income pilot to Smiths Falls.
The town has faced economic hardship following the closure of a Hershey’s chocolate plant in 2008, as well as the loss of other manufacturing plants such as Shorewood Packaging and Stanley Tools. Residents like Knapp and Kantor believe that the council should welcome the basic income pilot (if Smiths Falls is selected) as a potential solution to its high rate of poverty.
On January 12, a public information session on the basic income pilot, convened by the Smiths Falls council, drew a crowd of more than 250 people.
The response of constituents was influential in the council’s reversal of its decision at the January 16 special meeting.
References and Further Information:
Evelyn Harford, “Smiths Falls town council won’t have ultimate sway on basic income pilot project’s location, says province,” Smiths Falls Record News, January 6, 2017.
Evelyn Harford, “Protesters make a stand in support of basic income pilot at Smiths Falls town council,” Smiths Falls Record News, January 9, 2017.
Hillary Johnstone, “‘An occupy moment’: Smiths Falls residents demand basic income pilot project,” CBC News, January 10, 2017.
Evelyn Harford, “Council votes to send basic income delegation to ask questions, lobby province,” Smiths Falls Record News, January 16, 2017.
Chris Must, “Council reverses stance on basic income lobbying,” Hometown News.
John Chang, “CANADA: Council of small town Smiths Falls rejects basic income trial, residents disagree,” Basic Income News, January 16, 2017.
Reviewed by Dawn Howard
Photo: Bridge near Smiths Falls, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 David McCormack