By: JESSICA SAULNIER
FREDERICTON– On Monday night, Fredericton City Council voted 10-2 on a motion supporting a guaranteed livable basic income.
The resolution means the City of Fredericton will write a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Premier Blaine Higgs, and New Brunswick Members of Parliament asking them to implement a guaranteed livable basic income in Fredericton.
Wil Robertson, a volunteer with Coalition Canada Basic Income, said throughout his undergraduate degree at St. Thomas University he was one of the only voices from New Brunswick at the national table advocating for basic income. Over the last year, he and members from Greater Fredericton Social Innovation worked together to develop the Basic Income New Brunswick coalition, which is part of Coalition Canada.
“The definition for basic income is basically a floor, an income floor beneath everyone’s feet so that you don’t fall below a certain level of poverty,” said Robertson.
Implementing a basic income for people around the poverty line means no one is “living in abject poverty without the ability to afford necessities or to afford decent shelter or decent food,” said Robertson.
This is where the idea of a guaranteed livable income comes from. It allows people from all walks of life, such as people with disabilities, single mothers, and students coming out of post-secondary education to live comfortably without having to worry about covering their required expenses.
Robertson said programs created to help people experiencing poverty are specific and hard to qualify for. He claims a lot of those problems disappear with a universal basic income.
“It’s kind of just about simplifying that while respecting that everyone should have a right to live with dignity and a secure income,” he said.
Robertson believes the implementation of a guaranteed basic income is long overdue. He believes questions have already been thoroughly answered about what basic income does by research and trials from Canada and around the world. The real question, he says, is why a basic income hasn’t been implemented yet when it could benefit people’s mental and physical health, reduce hospitalization rates, and encourage students to stay in school.
“That’s the frustration now with basic income advocates, is trying to say energized and make sure that we’re educating politicians and the public who may not know much about basic income and have some assumptions about what it is,” said Robertson.
The City of Fredericton’s Governance and Civic Engagement Committee saw a presentation from Basic Income New Brunswick on October 6. After the presentation, a form was created for community members to sign.
The form had a pre-written letter that Frederictonians could fill out with their name, email contact, and postal code and was automatically sent to the Mayor and council members. The purpose of this form was to show Fredericton City Council members that people from the community have concerns and want to see the motion passed.
“The Mayor said [Monday] night 381 people filled out the form, which is really what moves the needle. To turn that close vote from the committee to attend the vote the council which was huge in trying to build that support.”
During the Council meeting, Robertson said it was great to see a 10-to-2 vote supporting the motion. Councillor Steven Hicks and Councillor Jocelyn Pike did not approve the motion.
Councillor Hicks of Ward 5 said he was surprised to see the presentation come forward.
“I’m just not comfortable. I feel like we need a better understanding of the implications of such a broad policy before advocating for it. What is the cost going to be? How many tens of billions of dollars? What’s the effect on inflation or the potential effects on the workforce?” he asked.
He said it is the worst workforce situation he has seen and jobs are already going unfilled. Without more information presented from other sources, Councillor Hicks said he understands the intention of the resolution but he did not support it.
Councillor Eric Megarity of Ward 6 said it’s a right for someone to have a roof over their head, not a privilege. This motion was not about the programming or money yet but instead just a support letter to get their federal members to look at it.
While the conversations about a guaranteed livable income for Fredericton will not happen tomorrow at the federal level, Megarity said supporting the letter is a big step.
“I think they have to hear from the people sooner or later that this is something that they should look at and if nobody speaks out, then they’ll drop it. But at least let them do the due diligence at the federal level and at least we can support the idea,” said Councillor Megarity.
Councillor Cassandra LeBlanc of Ward 10 said passing this motion does not mean they are seeing if they can afford this as a province and country. Passing this motion is just asking to rethink how social support is done in Canada.
As the director of the food security organization, LeBlanc said the food banks, community kitchens, and shelters are operating at a level that has never been seen before. People with jobs are also coming to the food banks to help them get by.
“Emergency services have to become emergency services again,” said LeBlanc. “We’re becoming a normal part of median society.”
Where else has this been implemented?
The government of Newfoundland and Labrador held a press conference on October 25 introducing a basic income program for youth receiving residential services. This is a targeted basic income program, said Robertson.
Over the last several months, similar resolutions were passed in other areas, such as the Union of Municipalities of British Columbia, the Halifax Regional Municipality, and the City of Moncton.
Robertson is from Moncton and in the spring, he presented the motion to call for basic income before the Moncton City Council. This motion was just recently passed in council in September.
Jessica Saulnier is an intern for Huddle in Fredericton. Send her feedback or tips: email@example.com