Smiths Falls town councillors have voted to allow Mayor Shawn Pankow to lobby the provincial government to have the community selected to participate in a study of the feasibility of a basic guaranteed income.
In an unexpected reversal of its earlier position on the issue, council backed a plan for the mayor — and Lanark County Warden Bill Dobson — to lobby the Ministry of Community and Social Services at the upcoming Rural Ontario Municipal Association (ROMA) convention.
At a Jan. 16 special meeting of council’s Committee of the Whole (COW), Pankow surprised fellow council members by asking to have the issue of lobbying for the basic income pilot study placed on the agenda. The plan to lobby the minister was voted down at a Dec. 19 meeting, which the mayor and Councillor Chris Cummings were unable to attend.
That decision quickly generated controversy as members of the community criticized council, voiced their support for the concept of a basic guaranteed income, and national media descended on the town to cover the story. A Jan. 12 consultation session on the planned pilot study attracted a crowd of 250 to the community centre.
“I have been contacted by dozens and hundreds of people who are concerned about this topic,” said Pankow, at the Jan. 16 meeting. “The sentiment I received from 99 per cent of the people I talked to is that they don’t believe this issue is over.”
After other members of the committee weighed in on the issue, committee meeting chair Councillor Jay Brennan said he would support the delegation to the ROMA convention, provided the warden of Lanark County be involved, since social services are delivered locally by the county.
Brennan also stated that, “This particular issue has really been a disaster in my view.”
He argued that the mayor had decided to write a letter to the province asking to be part of the planned pilot study without advising the rest of council, and that council remained unaware this step had been taken for several months. “I hope people can understand the position that me and the other councillors were put in on Dec. 19,” he said.
“I’ve never been against the basic income pilot project,” said Councillor John Maloney. “I just wanted more information about it.” Maloney added that he felt “blindsided” by the mayor’s actions.
“I acknowledge I could have handled things differently,” said the mayor, adding that he wanted to apologize to council for acting without their knowledge.
Pankow also advised councillors that Warden Dobson has agreed to accompany him in lobbying the province to have the local area chosen as a site for the pilot study.