Yarmouth town council recently voted unanimously in favour of a resolution to support a guaranteed basic income.
Coun. Gil Dares made a presentation to council last week on a motion that would have the town send letters in support of guaranteed basic income to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Premier Tim Houston, and a number of federal ministers.
“Both myself and councillor [Belle] Hatfield gave the reasons and the rationale why we were in support of this initiative,” Dares said in an interview. “If I tugged at the heartstrings, I’m glad I did. The pleasant outcome was a unanimous vote in support.”
Last week wasn’t the first time a presentation about a basic income was made to Yarmouth town council. Catherine Sweet, the secretary with the advocacy group Basic Income Nova Scotia Society, made a 10-minute presentation to Yarmouth council’s committee of the whole in February. But that motion was voted down. Only Dares and Hatfield voted to support it.
“I think people were of the opinion that the system would be abused and there wouldn’t be enough checks and balances, that they’d be handing out money and it would cost a lot. I just don’t think people understood,” Dares said.
Dares said after that presentation, he and Hatfield met with Yarmouth Deputy Mayor Steve Berry to discuss the issue further. Dares said he and Hatfield asked Berry to make a motion to reconsider the motion at a future council meeting. That happened last week. He said the letters to the prime minister, premier, and federal ministers should be sent out within a week.
“I was mostly thankful that I was sitting with a group of people, my colleagues, who were prepared to listen to the other side of the argument and change their opinion,” Dares said of the most recent motion. “I find this council I’m sitting on now is very open-minded and they listen and they respect each other’s opinions.”
First-hand effects of poverty
Dares said he’s been advocating for a basic income for years. He said during his 35-year career with the RCMP he saw “too many times the first-hand effects of poverty.” He said he also sat on the board of directors with the transition house in Yarmouth and knows the connections between poverty and gender-based violence.
“I see these single moms with two kids that just can’t get out of the rut. The best way to say it is they’re not safe and it’s a loss of dignity. People say that people just want money handed to them for free and that’s just not the case,” Dares said.
“I don’t believe that the majority of people that are receiving benefits are going to sit home and receive benefits and rub their hands together and say thanks for taking care of me.”
Dares also pointed to other pilot projects around basic income, including one in Ontario that was cut short by Premier Doug Ford. And he pointed to Nova Scotia’s child poverty rate, which is the highest in Canada. Dares said he believes the concept of a basic income is “gaining steam.”
“So many people are worried it’s going to be a huge drain on the taxpayer. But the cost of poverty in this country ranges from $73 billion to $86 billion now,” Dares said. “Poverty costs us money. If you can lift people out of that… it boils down to almost cost neutral.”
‘Adding their voice’
Sweet, who gave the presentation to Yarmouth council’s committee of the whole in February said she was “over the moon” about the passing of the resolution.
“I was so excited that Yarmouth is joining so many other municipalities in voicing concerns for all our citizens and just being aware that we can alleviate a lot of suffering of our neighbours with this program. It would be a real feather in the cap of Canadian society if we did this,” Sweet said in an interview.
Yarmouth joins other municipalities and towns, including HRM, Cumberland County, Pictou County, Annapolis County, the Town of Wolfville, the Town of Antigonish, and Antigonish County, which all passed similar resolutions around a basic income. The Atlantic Congress of Mayors passed a resolution on basic income in September 2022. Nova Scotia now has the most municipalities and towns in Canada in support of a guaranteed basic income.
Dr. Elizabeth Kay-Raining Bird, a professor at Dalhousie University who advocates for UBI with Basic Income Nova Scotia Society, called the passing of the resolution by Yarmouth town council “wonderful.”
“They are adding their voice to a number of other councils that have passed similar resolutions throughout Nova Scotia,” Kay-Raining Bird said in an interview. “The more councils that pass resolutions, the stronger the voice from Nova Scotia calling for basic income and emphasizing the importance of a basic income because of the impacts it’s having on municipalities. I know there are other ones that are working with advocates and may pass resolutions in the near future.”
Kay-Raining Bird said while the momentum for a basic income has been growing for years, the COVID-19 pandemic and rising inflation have shown how Canadians have been struggling to get by.
“So, a basic income becomes an important strategy for helping people to live a life of dignity,” she said.
She added that Canada offers other programs to support Canadians, including Old Age Security, the Guaranteed Income Supplement, and Canada Child Benefit. Bill C-22 was recently passed in the House of Commons that will lead to a disability benefit for people with disabilities.
“So, we have incrementally been addressing the need to reduce poverty in this county, but a basic income for everyone is something that is necessary because not all people fall into those categories,” Kay-Raining Bird said.
‘A philosophical leap’ to understand basic income
Sweet said for some people there is a “misunderstanding about the philosophy” behind a basic income.
“It is a bit of a philosophical leap because the way society is set up a lot of the time is you earn money by doing labour,” Sweet said. “It’s a philosophical switch to say you need money to function in our society and it’s a basic right to participate in society, and therefore, it’s part of you being a citizen that you should have your basic needs taken care of.”
She said municipalities are the governments feeling the pressure of poverty, housing, and other societal issues.
“It’s our towns and cities that are shouldering a lot of the burdens,” Sweet said. “They’re getting wise and they know this is something they need help with.”
Dares, meanwhile, said he’s willing to speak with anyone who may not understand what a basic income does or who oppose the concept.
“I’m available to answer any questions and defend my position on this,” Dares said. “And to those that need the support, I think we need them to know there are people, many people out there, who are looking for solutions for them. Everybody should have a right to live in safety and with dignity.”