Thunder Bay

Basic income experiment must be paired with social assistance hikes, says Thunder Bay advocate

The implementation of a basic income pilot program in Thunder Bay, Ont. could have significant benefits for participants, but an advocate for people living in poverty in the community says it's important that those still relying on the current social assistance program not be left behind.

The provincial government announced Monday that Thunder Bay will be one of three pilot communities

Sally Colquhoun, is the coordinator of legal services at Kinna-aweya Legal Clinic in Thunder Bay. (Kinna-aweya Legal Clinic)

The implementation of a basic income pilot program in Thunder Bay, Ont. could have significant benefits for participants, but an advocate for people living in poverty in the community says it's important that those still relying on the current social assistance program not be left behind. 

"For some people it will be great," said Sally Colquhoun, the coordinator of legal services at Kinna-aweya Legal Clinic, adding that for those taking part in the pilot program, it should offer more money along with fewer restrictions and less red tape. 

"That's the idea of basic income is that you give people money without a lot of strings attached and then they'll make wise decisions about what to do," she said. 

However, not everyone living on a low income will be able to take part. The pilot program will extend to 4,000 people in Thunder Bay, Hamilton and Lindsay, who could receive a maximum of close to $17,000 per year. 

Unanswered questions

Colquhoun says that raises a concern, if others in the community are still receiving lower social assistance rates.

"So does that mean people living next door to each other, one person's still only going to get $700 and their neighbour's going to get $1400 a month? It seems profoundly unfair." she said. 

There are still many questions to be answered about how the program will be administered and run, said Colquhoun, but she said her main concern is that social assistance rates also rise over the three years of the pilot program. 

"If social assistance rates aren't increased significantly at the same time, it's going to leave people in a totally untenable situation." 

'It's a start'

Other organizations in the city will also be watching the program closely. 

"We're very, very excited about the fact that this is happening in our community." said Marie Klassen, director of services at the Lakehead Social Planning Council, an organization that works for poverty reduction in Thunder Bay. 

"It's a start in sort of recognizing that there hasn't been any increase in minimum or living wages in any way over the last number of years."

Many people in the community are struggling to get by on inadequate incomes, and a basic income could improve their quality of life, said Klassen.  

"We're hoping that this is going to be a success story," she said.

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