If the provincial government moves forward with a basic guaranteed income plan, one Nelson organization wants the city to be considered for a possible pilot project.
Valerie Warmington, a city councillor, and Dr. Lee Mackay with the Kootenay Boundary Division of Family Practice, spoke on behalf of Nelson at its Best in front of council on Monday. They argued Nelson is already well situated to contribute should the government ask for municipal volunteers.
“We’re quite contained in terms of population,” said Warmington. “There’s lots of work already going, we have a lot of agencies that can provide that baseline data and I think this community has shown a huge willingness to be involved and will continue to provide that data over time.”
Basic income is no-strings-attached money meant to help residents pay for necessities such as housing and food as well as with health needs.
Last year, the NDP and B.C. Green Party’s election deal included a pledge to study the pros and cons of providing a basic income to B.C. residents.
Shane Simpson, the Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction, reiterated that plan last October but did not set a timeline for its implementation. The idea is gaining traction nationwide.
It was initially tried out for four years in Dauphin, Man., in the 1970s but ended because of a recession. This year Ontario will select 4,000 residents in three communities to receive about $17,000 annually for three years as part of its own pilot, while in Quebec the government has committed to minimum income assistance for 84,000 residents.
Warmington refers to the plan as a trickle-up approach to poverty.
“I feel that it is very much levelling the playing field,” she said. “It’s putting money directly into the hands of people who are struggling right now. Instead of what I think is quite a convoluted and disproven approach of trickle down, where you put the money in the hands of people who already have the capital means to change things in the hope that it is somehow going to trickle down to people who need it at the bottom, and it never does, it never has.
“This for me is a straightforward way of putting money in the hands of people who need it.”
B.C. currently has the highest poverty rate in Canada. The provincial government has said 678,000 people, including 118,000 children, live in poverty.
Last year’s census showed Nelson is struggling with poverty.
The city has the second highest percentage of low-income residents at 18.3 per cent of any municipality in B.C. Census numbers also showed Nelson’s median household income is just $56,714, which is below the provincial average of $69,995 and the national average of $70,336.
Unemployment is also high in Nelson at 8.8 per cent, well above the national average of 7.7 per cent.