Nova Scotia

Halifax basic income supporters explore poverty issues

A basic guaranteed income could help bring people out of poverty and to escape a miserable existence, advocates say.

Poverty keeps 'diamonds in the mud,' says basic income guarantee advocate Linda Nicholas

Linda Nicholas drove eight hours from Tobique First Nation in northern New Brunswick because she's starting a basic income advocacy group. (Rachel Ward/CBC)

A basic income guarantee could help bring people out of poverty and to escape a miserable existence, advocates say.

They say guaranteeing a base income for all would reduce stress for low income people, cut bureaucratic red tape, lift people out of poverty and replace flawed income assistance programs.

Linda Nicholas drove eight hours from her home in northern New Brunswick's Tobique First Nation to Halifax for a conference on Saturday about the philosophy.

"It can't be a slapstick idea," she said. "It's our obligation to stand up and say what we want, what we need. We have to take more responsibility."

The conference, Basic Income Guarantee: The Time is Right, looked at various forms of basic income, social determinants of health, work disincentives in the current income assistance program, issues of precarious work and food security. It was free and included a lunch. 

The idea's gaining traction. Just last month, a pre-budget report pushed for a study and pilot project looking at basic income.

(Rachel Ward/CBC)

'No idea who we're keeping down'

Nicholas said she raised two children alone, and couldn't live up to her full potential because of financial constraints.

She's now in the fourth year of recovery from subsequent mental illness — and is using her experience to encourage basic income in New Brunswick. 

"We have no idea who we're keeping down. We have no idea who is buried in that kind of poverty," Nicholas said.

"It's like finding diamonds in the mud."

Above 'left and right,' councillor says

Waye Mason, councillor for Halifax South Downtown, said the conference was "informative and sad."

"You're talking about the best way to help people who are in serious need in terms of economic and health issues that are driven by not having enough money to live comfortably above the poverty line," he said.

He says he's a "big fan" of the old idea of basic income

"It seems to rise above the ideological left and right as a common sense solution to a problem we all recognize," Mason said. 

"I think that it's time we really took steps toward implementing it."

Opportunity 'to be equal'

Basic income could mean an opportunity "to be equal" and a "much better society," attendee Isaiah Olateru said. 

"The status quo, we don't think that's the answer," he said.

"It's wise to at least consider the basic income concept."

Isaiah Olateru says he thinks basic income should be discussed. (Rachel Ward/CBC)

'You have barriers'

Basic income would have to be part of a bigger solution, attendee Jessica Dempsey said. She said better mental health and community services are needed first.

"I don't want to live in poverty. I don't like this. I'm a transwoman living on income assistance. I have enough stigma and I can't find a job — and I'm educated," said Dempsey, who's complained of discrimination in the past.

"Where are the solutions? You have barriers."

Attendees were encouraged to sign a petition for basic income for people across Canada.

About the Author

Rachel Ward

Journalist

Rachel Ward is a journalist with CBC Calgary. You can reach her with questions or story ideas at rachel.ward@cbc.ca.

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