Napanee supports fellow municipalities on basic income and OHIP treatment coverage

Greater Napanee’s historic town hall. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell/Kingstonist.

The Council of the Town of Greater Napanee made some progressive political moves this week at its Tuesday, Sep. 26, 2023, meeting when Councillor Angela Hicks brought forward two pieces of correspondence from other Ontario municipalities asking for Napanee’s support on the provincial and federal stage.

First, Hicks brought forward a letter from the Council of the Corporation of the Town of Grimsby, which explained that at its meeting held on Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2023, councillors had passed a resolution petitioning the federal and provincial governments for a united effort in establishing a guaranteed livable income program. 

Grimsby Council’s letter outlined some grim statistics for their region, which led to the resolution. They noted that the Canadian livable wage for the Niagara Region two years ago was $19.80. In terms of annual income, this was $6,000 below that of a minimum wage employee. Meanwhile, residents on programs such as Ontario Works receive targeted fixed monthly incomes of $733, and Ontario Disability Support Services (ODSP) recipients receive $1,376.

At the current Ontario minimum wage rate, a person working 37.5 hours per week will earn approximately $2,500 monthly (before tax). The median monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Grimsby as of August 2023 is $2,000 per month; rent is considered affordable when it does not exceed 30 per cent of income. In Niagara West, rent is approximately 272 per cent of Ontario Works, 145 per cent of ODSP, 75 per cent of minimum wage full-time, and 150 per cent of minimum wage part-time.

The Council of Grimsby also shared statistics on housing support and food bank usage. 

Grimsby’s letter to Ontario municipalities encourages them not only to collect data on housing and poverty in their communities, but also to examine their pending economic vulnerability as a result, and “join us in advocating on behalf of our communities with this data, and by writing a letter to the Prime Minister, Premier, and local politicians calling for a united effort in establishing a Guaranteed Livable Income program.” 

Hugh Segal died in August in Kingston at the age of 72, but his dream of a basic income lives on. Photo courtesy of Queen’s University.

A ‘guaranteed livable basic income’ (GLBI) is a payment to eligible couples or individuals that ensures a minimum income level, regardless of employment status. It is different from social assistance, in that a basic income can be given to anyone who meets the income eligibility criterion who may be working but earning below the basic income level. It is also generally simpler to administer, according to an archived web page published under the previous provincial government.

Back in 2016, the province ventured to create a GLBI Pilot Project to “test a growing view at home and abroad that basic income could provide a new approach to reducing poverty in a sustainable way,” the archived material states. In June 2016, the Honourable Hugh Segal was asked for advice on how to design, deliver, and evaluate a basic income pilot. 

Segal, who died in August, was a Conservative politician and former senator; among other roles, he served as chief of staff to Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and Ontario Premier Bill Davis. Segal had advocated for a guaranteed annual income for decades, in part because of his own experience growing up poor in Canada. He said his traditional view of progressive conservatism had always understood the importance of social justice and equality of opportunity. 

According to the long-abandoned web page for the pilot, under the project, a single person could have received up to about $17,000 a year, minus half of any income they earned, while the maximum for a couple was about $24,000. People with disabilities could have received an extra $6,000. However, the Progressive Conservative government under Doug Ford, elected in 2018, scrapped the project.

Segal called this decision a “horrific” mistake and told CBC Radio’s Ottawa Morning at the time, “I am embarrassed as a Progressive Conservative.” In 2019, Segal published the book Bootstraps Need Boots: One Tory’s Lonely Fight to End Poverty in Canada, which advocated for a guaranteed annual income for all Canadians. 

Councillor Hicks stated that, in going through her correspondence package, she found the Grimsby letter to be “quite enlightening.”

“I have always been in favour of a livable wage,” Hicks said. “I understand the minimum wage will raise on October 1 to $16.55 an hour [from the current $15.50 an hour], which would… bring in $2,500 a month a month before taxes… I think rent on an apartment in Napanee runs around $1,800 a month, and then you still have your heat, your hydro, a telephone of some sort, and food. So minimum wage is not a living wage.”

Hicks continued, “I would like to support Grimsby on this. I know that there’s opinions on both sides… but when you’re trying to feed a family and keep a roof over their head at minimum wage, it’s difficult to do. So that’s my two cents on that subject.”

After some consultation with Town Clerk Jessica Walters, a motion in favour of showing support for Grimsby’s proposal by sending letters of support to both the federal and provincial governments passed unanimously.

Councillor Angela Hicks. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell/Kingstonist.

Next came a request for Council’s support of a resolution passed by the Municipality of Wawa with regards to chronic pain treatments.

The resolution from Wawa explains that “the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons has made a decision that [the Municipality of Wawa believes] will lead more people who suffer from chronic pain to turn to opioids to alleviate their pain… The College is targeting community pain clinics by requiring the use of ultrasound technology in the administration of nerve block injections by licensed physicians. This requirement will increase the time it takes to administer the nerve block and, therefore, reduce the number of patients a physician can see in a day.”

Furthermore, the request notes that “the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP) is proposing to reduce coverage for several vital health care services, including a drastic reduction in the number and frequency of nerve block injections a patient can receive, and… these changes have been proposed without any consultation with pain management medical professionals or with their patients. This cut will force chronic pain clinics to shut down, putting a greater strain on family physicians and emergency rooms, and… with the reduction in the number of nerve blocks being administered, many patients looking for pain relief will turn to overcrowded emergency rooms, opioid prescriptions from doctors, or opioid street drugs”

Therefore the Council of the Corporation of the Municipality of Wawa requested that the Government of Ontario maintain OHIP coverage for chronic pain treatments and continue to provide much-needed care for the people of Ontario.

Hicks brought this piece of correspondence up for discussion as well, saying she was “very familiar” with chronic pain sufferers and that reducing the coverage for chronic pain treatment could lead more people to turn to opioids for relief.

“We already have an opioid crisis, and opioids are the preferred medication of this type of chronic pain. If you can find an alternative method, it’s cheaper in the long run than trying to treat an addiction,” she expressed.

“Some people… get relief once a week or once a month when they go for these injections of nerve blockers, and removing that option from them? I don’t think it’s right. There’s already an issue with health care in this country, specifically for us in this province. So I would like to make a resolution to receive and support the Municipality of Wawa.”

Deputy Mayor Brian Calver spoke up in favour of the motion, saying, “As a recipient of some of these medications that are not covered, that you have to pay out of pocket, you’re going to have to pay cash to the doctor to administer some of these things… So I definitely support this.”.

Hicks’s resolution to note and receive the Wawa resolution and write to the provincial government in support passed unopposed, without further discussion.

As always, you can read full Council meeting agendas on Napanee’s civic web online, and watch meetings live or recorded on the town’s YouTube channel.

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