Ottawa

'An occupy moment': Smiths Falls residents demand basic income pilot project

A proposed pilot project to bring guaranteed income to Smiths Falls, Ont., generated heated debate at a town hall meeting on Monday night, as two local residents stood up and demanded to be heard by their local politicians.

Town's mayor wants to pitch Smiths Falls as site for provincial pilot project on basic income

Carol Anne Knapp, right, and Darlene Kantor interrupt a committee of the whole meeting to make their case for a guaranteed income pilot project in Smiths Falls, Ont. (Hillary Johnstone/CBC News)

A proposed pilot project to bring guaranteed income to Smiths Falls, Ont., generated heated debate at a town hall meeting on Monday night, as two local residents stood up and demanded to be heard.

"This is an occupy moment, and we're here to protest," Carol Anne Knapp told the room, which was filled with town councillors, residents and reporters for the committee of the whole meeting. 

Resident Darlene Kantor also stood up and talked about her struggle to supplement her disability support payments by working as a building superintendent.

"Please, people, there's people starving," Kantor said.

'We're here to be heard'

As officials began to request the women sit down or be removed, Knapp said, "Take the action to have the police throw me and my grandson out. Do what you have to. But we're here to be heard. We're not here to be formal. We're here to say we're here to protest."

Darlene Kantor stood up and pleaded with town councillors to support the idea of a guaranteed income. (Hillary Johnstone/CBC News)

The outburst happened as councillors were responding to a presentation from local public health officials about the potential benefits of a basic income for Smiths Falls.

Knapp and Kantor said they were outraged after committee members voted last month against sending a town delegation to pitch Smiths Falls to the province as a site for the pilot project.

Ontario is expected to select a few communities for the project, which would see all individuals given a guaranteed minimum income each month.

Mayor Shawn Pankow wants the town to be chosen as a test site. He has previously spoken to CBC Ottawa about the town's challenges in the last decade, as hundreds of well-paying jobs disappeared when Hershey's Chocolate and Stanley Tools left the area.

'It's the province that decides'

After Monday night's meeting, Coun. John Maloney — who voted last month against pitching Smiths Falls as a test site — said he believes the town doesn't have all the necessary information yet about whether the project would benefit its most vulnerable residents.

Smiths Falls town Coun. John Maloney says he doesn't think the municipality has all the information about whether a basic income pilot project would benefit the most vulnerable members of the community.

Maloney also said there's been a lot of back and forth on the topic at council recently, but ultimately, the final decision rests with the province.

"I think we're losing sight of that. You know, it's the province that decides who's going to get the pilot project, not the municipality," said Maloney.

For now, the local debate is expected to continue.

A public information meeting has been scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday at the Memorial Community Centre.

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