‘A foot up’: Basic Income Guarantee for working-age adults supported by Smiths Falls council

Beckwith Street in Smiths Falls – Laurie Weir photo

The cost of poverty in Canada is $80 billion. The solution — or basic income support — is $80 billion. It’s a trade-off.

This came from Mayor Shawn Pankow during the Monday, March 25 committee of the whole meeting for the Town of Smiths Falls, when he brought forward a draft proposal to support Basic Income Guarantee for working-age adults.

Reactionary results of poverty affect emergency rooms, the entire health care system, paramedic service and police service.

“With the high probability of children raised in poverty destined to a lifetime of poverty,” Pankow said, “our community’s high level of people living in poverty will not change without a significant change at the federal or provincial levels.”

There were some disagreements around the horseshoe, most notably from Coun. Dawn Quinn, who in 2016, didn’t support the idea of being a test town for this government pilot project. She said she still doesn’t support the basic income supplement. She’d rather see people obtain more affordable education, or get mental healthcare.

“Let’s look at that as a starting point,” she said. “You do not solve problems by putting money at it.”

Quinn said she’d also like to see a bus service in town because so many residents do not have a vehicle.

Pankow said, “Until we are ready to confront the stark reality, a great number of our citizens and our children are living in deep and difficult poverty. Until we commit to effective and sustained advocacy for these citizens, we’re ignoring the needs of one in every six people in our community.”

Social welfare is “horribly inadequate,” Pankow said. “If systemic change does not happen the negative consequences of poverty will get far worse and the impact on every element of society will be far more profound and visibly evident.”

  • This is a national issue, he stressed, but he broke down some numbers for those living in poverty in Smiths Falls.
  • According to Statistics Canada data, in 2020 the median after-tax household income in Smiths Falls was $56,400, the lowest of any lower- or single-tier municipality in Lanark County (Beckwith the highest, at $107,000), and compared to $77,000 for Lanark County as a whole.
  • The 2021 Census of Canada 1,490 out of 9,085 residents of Smiths Falls (16.4 per cent of the total) lived in low income, based on the Low Income After Tax (LIM-AT) Measure.
  • Of the 1,490 Smiths Falls citizens living in low income in 2021, 120 of them were children five years old or younger, 215 of them were children between the ages of six and 17, and 365 of them were seniors aged 65 or over.
  • 785 or 23 per cent of Smiths Falls households had an income of less than $30,000 annually.
  • Another 905 households had a median income between $30,000 and $50,000.
  • Four in 10 families are trying to make ends meet on a total household income of less than $50,000.

Pankow said a number of municipalities have recently passed a resolution supporting the need for basic income, including Kingston earlier this month. Napanee and Belleville have also supported it and the trend is rolling across the province and the county.

The overall benefit, and health and wellness of the community improves as the standard of living does, the mayor said, as he looked for support of the resolution.

Look at what this would do for the community, he said, “and economically, imagine what it would do for not just the people of our town, but for the overall broader economy.”

Coun. Peter McKenna agreed with the mayor, saying they wouldn’t be the first municipality to support a resolution like this.

Coun. Jay Brennan said this “was not a magic bullet,” and the basic income wouldn’t solve everything.

Coun. Stephen Robinson also said he felt the cost of the program – projections next year to hit $93 billion, was just too much. He’d rather see funding go toward training and education. He said implementing basic income would increase dependency on government support.

Pankow said he was disappointed with some of the comments – “respectfully” – but “we are talking about one in six of our citizens who live in deep poverty. Without system change, that will continue for generations.”

Pankow said the reality is, if people are worried about how they are going to pay for food or rent, how will they survive, they’re not thinking about getting an education or how to start a business, “because your brain physically cannot enable you to do that.”

If there is no hope … hope doesn’t present itself without some degree of change, he said.

“If the cost of poverty is $80 billion and the cost of the basic income program (next year) is $93 billion, there is not much difference there to change the lives of so many people in our community.”

Coun. Jennifer Miller, who is the executive director at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Lanark County, chaired the meeting. She said this could be the “foot up” that families in Smiths Falls need. She became emotional when speaking of those she sees daily at BBBS who go without food, “and they are just a block away from here,” she said.

The majority of council supported the resolution and it will move forward to a council meeting for final approval. The resolution can be found here.

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