Circles has been a game changer on the ground

Aug 20th, 2015 | By | Category: Circles in the Media

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Sarnia mayor frustrated with federal leaders for ignoring poverty, inequality

One of Canada’s longest serving mayors is getting frustrated with the three main federal party leaders who are persistently ignoring the issues of poverty and inequality.

Mayor Mike Bradley, of Sarnia, Ontario, says he is speaking out more lately for measures to deal with inequality – such as a basic income guarantee policy – “because others don’t.”

All three main political parties are constantly referencing the middle class, he says, at the expense of all others. (In fact, in the last debate, only Green Party leader Elizabeth May mentioned inequality and suggested the issue needed far more attention.)

Mayor Bradley says the people that need a voice are the ones who are struggling.

“They don’t have the energy and the time. They need someone to advocate for them. That’s why I think it’s important to speak out, because inequality continues to grow.”

Bradley was one of 327 mayors from across Canada contacted by Leaders and Legacies for a national survey to gauge municipal support for basic income policy. The mayors largely represent the most populous centres in Canada, while allowing for participation from all provinces and territories.

A common definition of a basic income guarantee ensures everyone an income sufficient to meet basic needs and live with dignity, regardless of work status. It involves a regular, reliable distribution of money from government to people to help ensure total income sufficient to meet common, basic needs.

Bradley says Sarnia – a city of about 72,000 on the Ontario-Michigan border — is not the only community that could benefit from a basic income guarantee policy.

“It doesn’t matter the community — you see huge gaps in haves and have-nots, now, and its growing.”

“Many of the social issues that develop are simply because people are struggling. They don’t have the ability to deal with their essential needs. This is a country of incredible wealth and we can’t even meet the basic needs of our populations,” he says.

Circle Program

The mayor says it’s a problem when people try to simplify the solutions to poverty, because it’s never one issue. From homelessness, addictions, mental health issues, education, and transportation and employment, everything needs to be considered, he says.

A program that Lambton County adopted called Circles has been a game changer on the ground, he says, and it’s something the municipality is proud of.

According to their website, Circles is a “supportive, intentional, reciprocal, befriending relationship comprised of a Circle Leader, a family working to get out of poverty, and two to four community Allies — middle class people who are willing to befriend the family and support their way out of poverty.”

The Circles Campaign:

  • Builds intentional relationships across class and race lines
  • Identifies barriers that keep people in poverty
  • Implements innovative solutions
  • Creates partnerships to help families
  • Changes the goals of the system to support families and economic change

Bradley says community members with various skills come together to support people who are on social assistance, with about 50 families involved so far. The program is so successful it is being adopted by other communities.

He points out that sometimes it’s best not to wait for the Province or Federal government to come to the rescue.

“Sometimes you can do things locally that matter. Circles is a foundation for citizen engagement.”

Basic Income Guarantee Policy

Bradley says he remembers basic income guarantee policy being debated during the Pierre Trudeau-Robert Stanfield years in the 1970s. The needs are greater now, he says, and inequality has risen, which is why he supports the policy.

“Today, federal politicians wait until the public is so far ahead of them and then they work to catch up. That’s why I feel like it’s part of my responsibility to raise these issues.”

The mayor notes that social services offers no incentives to better oneself at all, and it just encourages an underground economy.

“It’s a system structured for failure.”

Bradley says that a single male on social assistance gets less than $600 a month, and it “defies common sense that he can survive.”

The mayor says there will always be excuses governments can make for not dealing with inequality, but the fact remains a country as wealthy as Canada can always make the choice to implement a policy like a basic income guarantee.

“There’s never a right time to do something – so let’s just do it.”

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