Smiths Falls councillors have rejected a proposal for the town to participate in a pilot project to test the concept of providing a guaranteed basic income in Ontario.
At a meeting of council’s Committee of the Whole Dec. 19, councillors were told that Mayor Shawn Pankow had written to the province in May suggesting that the town might be interested in participating in the project – a step which some councillors said they were unaware of and would not support.
Announced in the 2016 provincial budget, the pilot project is being spearheaded by former senator Hugh Segal. The pilot project would be run in several communities, providing people on social assistance with a basic income for three years. An individual would have to be a resident of the community for at least a year to qualify to take part in the project.
According to news reports, a similar project was undertaken in Manitoba in the 1970s. Although the results were not publicized, a recent research paper concluded that the provision of a basic income virtually eliminated poverty and reduced health care costs.
“I suspect there would not be a direct cost to the town of Smiths Falls,” said Chief Administrative Officer Malcolm Morris, adding that the project would be administered by the provincial government.
Councillor Jay Brennan said it would be more appropriate for the province to approach Lanark County, since social services in the local area are administered at the county level.
“I think this is something that has merit,” said Councillor Lorraine Allen. “People who live in poverty and have mental illness of one kind of another are struggling.”
However, councillors John Maloney and Dawn Quinn said they viewed the project as throwing money at a problem that could better be addressed through education, and were not in favour of Smiths Falls being a site for the pilot project.