Halifax to wait-and-see on this whole basic income thing

"Caution is a defensible approach," encourages timid staff report.

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Basic Grinches. - DANIELLE CAMERON
  • DANIELLE CAMERON
  • Basic Grinches.

A staff report on poverty reduction recommends Halifax hold off on endorsing a basic income pilot project from the province.

The municipality’s Community Planning and Economic Standing Committee asked for the report back in July after a presentation from Basic Income Nova Scotia.

At the time, the group had suggested some minor steps HRM could take towards supporting a basic income project in the province; including declaring public support for the idea, encouraging other municipalities to do the same and offering to co-fund a feasibility study with the Nova Scotian government.

All of those measures, BINS said, would be “consistent with [HRM’s] recently announced poverty strategy.”

But Monday’s staff report by senior advisor Chris Bryant wasn't so encouraging.

“From HRM’s perspective…it seems premature to support basic income or encourage other municipalities to do so,” it reads.

Instead, Bryant recommends HRM holds off for now—monitoring and reporting back periodically on federal poverty reduction strategies and the basic income pilot projects underway in Ontario and Finland.

It's a safer choice, but unlikely to prove popular.

“Choosing not to respond more actively on this file will not be well received by proponents of basic income,” Bryant writes, “but given the challenges of funding, designing and managing a basic income program, caution is a defensible approach.”

A financial supplement provided by the government to meet a person’s basic needs, the idea for basic income has been around for centuries. The topic has had renewed interest in recent years to address growing financial inequality and as a potential one-stop replacement for the web of social security services currently offered by federal and provincial governments.

Bryant’s staff report notes a basic income program from the province would come with significant unknown costs, and so it's better for Halifax to see how pilot programs elsewhere go before weighing in to endorse the idea ourselves.

That's some circular logic, according to deputy mayor Waye Mason.

“If we think—like other cities and towns have—that this is a solution that we want to advocate for, we should advocate for [it],” Mason said during the meeting.

The deputy mayor attempted to salvage something from the report by forwarding it to the poverty solutions committee HRM is working on with the United Way.

“They won’t even know this was here unless we send it to them for their consideration.”

A separate report on the similar-but-different idea of requiring a living wage for contracted employees of the municipality is due back next year.

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