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Hamilton City Council votes 16-0 in support of basic income

June 11, 2023

By Kerry Lubrick and Ann McRae

“Hamilton council’s support for basic income a proud moment. On June 7 Hamilton city council passed a resolution asking the provincial and federal governments to get going with basic income. The vote was unanimous: 16-0.

Why is this important? Wasn’t Hamilton the site of a basic income pilot project just four years ago? Some readers may recall that participants and social agencies lamented the premature end of that pilot, but Queen’s Park wasn’t listening. So, what is the big deal about the June 7 vote? And what was the point?

First, when was council of one mind on anything, in recent memory? And yet one councillor after another used their speaking time to say, they supported this because it was good for Hamilton, good for their ward, and not a partisan issue.

Oddly, Coun. McMeekin, a longtime Liberal who sponsored the motion, began by referring to Tommy Douglas, grandfather of the NDP! Then he moved through a pantheon of Canadian politicians from both Liberal and Conservative ranks, supporters of Basic Income: Hon. Robert Stanfield (PC), Hon. Marc Lalonde (L), Hamilton MP John Munroe (L), and Sen. Hugh Segal (PC). All of these had voiced their support, but for various reasons, nothing happened. McMeekin quoted former Solicitor General Wayne Easter (L) saying “[Basic Income] would be an economic boon to the Canadian economy.”

McMeekin’s point: when something is sensible, it doesn’t have to be partisan, it can just be the right thing to do.

One after another, councillors agreed. “It’s not ideology, it is facts,” said Coun. Cassar. Coun. Nann said, “Upstream solutions are needed,” referring to the problem that cities deal with the effects of poverty that manifest themselves on city streets and hospital wards. The policies creating crises for cities, such as social assistance programs, are created by higher levels of government. Municipalities, in other words, have to deal with realities, while others design policies. Cassar observed that the pressures on social services exist in the wealthier wards just as they do in the core.

From coast to coast, councils in cities and towns are asking why the provinces and federal government can’t get wheels under this issue. From the Union of British Columbia Municipalities to the councils of St. John NB, St. John’s NL, Halifax, Moncton, Fredericton and don’t forget the legislature of PEI! All three parties in that House agreed to ask the federal government to launch basic income in the island province.

Not to leave out the middle of the country, the City of Winnipeg endorsed the concept, as well. The idea even has significant support in Alberta. There is now a pilot in Quebec.

McMeekin urged the council to ride the wave of popularity of this issue: “We can do something historic,” in conjunction with the other municipalities, he said.

By acting together with the Association of Ontario Municipalities, and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, Hamilton could help to persuade the federal government to embrace basic income. Hamilton is a big player among municipalities, so our city’s representatives to these larger federations carries some influence.

“This can change lives,” McMeekin underlined. “This can save lives.”

We are proud of Hamilton city council for proposing a solution to the provincial and federal governments which will solve many of the crises (e.g. homelessness, affordable housing, mental and physical health, addictions, food insecurity) seen in Hamilton and across the country. Municipalities do not have jurisdiction over income but municipalities often step in to aid the most in need as they care about our community and neighbours in poverty. This action is a major step toward a just society.

Ann McRae lives in Dundas. She is a retired lawyer, author and co-chair of the Guaranteed Livable Income network of the United Church of Canada. mcraea@hotmail.com Kerry Lubrick, lives in of Hamilton. She retired from the Ontario Works office of the City of Hamilton, and is now the Facilitator of the O-BIN, the Ontario Basic Income Network, https://www.obin.ca/

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