Ontario government defends cancelling basic income pilot project

Glen Norman
August 6, 2018

In the interim, the province will provide current Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program recipients with an across-the-board 1.5 per cent increase in support rates to help them with a higher cost of living.

This week, the newly elected Progressive Conservative government announced it was ending the pilot after just one year, saying it was a "disincentive" for participants to become "productive members of society".

On Tuesday, Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod announced a review of the entire slate of income assistance programs provided by Ontario.

Sheila Regehr, chair of the Basic Income Canada Network, said such programs are more effective in lifting people out of poverty than social assistance, and require less bureaucracy to run.


Reports of the program's effectiveness have not been released but the program operated on the theory that if individuals were provided with a steady, basic income it would increase their achievement in obtaining health care and education and helps them return to the workforce. One in five people stays on Ontario Works for five or more years, and if they leave nearly half return, 90 per cent of them within a year.

The devastating refrain underpinning all of these stories was best summed up by Lindsay resident Catherine Webb Widjedal, who wrote to The Lindsay Advocate to say that the people she knew receiving basic income were "hard working people in low-paying jobs", who had "planned the next three years of their lives on this monthly money".

"I hadn't thought about it. except to say everything the provincial government does is a matter of discussion for us", he said when asked if he thinks Ottawa should step in to complete the project. "It will support people with disabilities to work when they are able", she said, adding that the planned changes would "get them on their feet and restore dignity in their lives".

The announcement was also panned by Green party Leader Mike Schreiner, who said assistance rates were too low even with the increase promised by the Liberals.


The Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, which had been critical of the project, said cancelling it only a year in "demonstrates a reckless disregard for the lives of almost 4,000 people.who planned their lives on the assurance of having a set income for three years". The point of the pilot project has been to see how costs and outcomes compare to the existing system in larger and smaller Ontario communities.

Mike Schreiner, Guelph MPP and Green Party leader, considers the increase to be a cut to the social assistance rate.

The program's cancellation also breaks Ford's campaign promise to keep it going.

He's one of many who work in the sector across Ontario and feel the same way. That's information any government concerned about vulnerable populations should value, Regehr said.


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