Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s platform was undefined throughout the entire campaign, but one theme was abundantly clear: he was going to limit government services to put more money in Ontarians’ pockets because “you can spend your money better than the government can.” Whether you agree with him or not, the man has certainly been making good on the cutting part — backing away from funding refugee resettlement, limiting government-funded pharmacare for people under the age of 25 — but now one of his cuts is taking money from low-income families, in direct violation of his campaign promise to not do exactly that.
In April, the PCs assured the Tor Star that they planned to keep the Basic Income pilot going. Today Minister MacLeod broke a PC campaign promise by cancelling the pilot before collecting any evidence on whether it works. A sad day for citizens, esp our most vulnerable. #onpoli pic.twitter.com/yeobwIIzju
— Mike Schreiner (@MikeSchreiner) July 31, 2018
In April 2017, the Liberal Ontario government began a Basic Income Pilot Project that offered low-income families a basic monthly income in the hopes that the extra cash flow would give participants more stability, an easier time paying bills and encourage them to further their educations.
The project helped out 4,000 participants between the ages of 18 and 64 who had lived in five predetermined Ontario areas for at least a year. These participants had to be making less than $34,000 individually or $48,000 as a couple and were given up to $16,989 a year for individuals or $24,027 a year for couples to supplement their costs of living. No strings attached. The program was to run for three years, then be evaluated.
The benefits of universal basic income have recently become a point of focus for many governments and advocacy groups. This pilot project was not technically “universal” basic income because it targeted a low-income demographic, but multiple studies have found that a government-issued basic income has many benefits for both individuals and the economy.
We’re a little more than a year in now and the Doug Ford Progressive Conservative government has decided to scrap the whole thing. After he promised on the campaign that he wouldn’t.
Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod said Tuesday that decisions made during campaigns are often derailed by the “realities” you discover after taking office. She did, however, claim that the government would be working toward a new and better solution for families “in 100 days.”
“My commitment to the people of Ontario, particularly the people who are most vulnerable, is that we will get it right,” MacLeod said, “I, in good conscience, could not proceed on the patchwork of systems that the Liberals had in place.”
The original plan was to assess the pilot project at the end of the three years and determine if the program was beneficial and if it would be sustainable for the province and potentially the rest of the country as well. Scrapping it before even the half-way point means that there isn’t enough data yet to accurately draw conclusions about the plan.
For the people who were receiving basic income, the scrapping of this program leaves them in a dangerous position — they have expected these payments to continue until 2020 and are now stuck. The Canadian Press interviewed Jody Dean from Hamilton who was able to enroll in school part-time and buy a parking pass at a hospital where one of her children is treated frequently because of the supplementary income. She said that the family would be going from having a sense of financial security to living “day-to-day.”
“It’s reprehensible, reprehensibly irresponsible to announce the end of the pilot without thinking those things through about how they’re going to wind up the program and how they are going to support people,” she said, “This is the government taking a political course of action without thinking things through the ramifications [for] these real people who have huge stresses in their lives now.”
The PC government is further defending their move to end the program by arguing that basic income makes people disinclined to work, despite no evidence in Ontario suggesting that and studies in other locations completely refuting it.
The government has not offered a timeline for the “winding down” of the pilot project or the implementation of a new equivalent program other than the promised 100 days.