Conservatives Just Killed Canada's Basic Income Pilot

Ontario Premier Doug Ford's administration cancelled the basic income pilot on Tuesday, which was supposed to run for three years and gave participants a monthly no-strings-attached support payment.

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Jul 31 2018, 9:00pm

Doug Ford. Image: Wikimedia/Bruce Reeve

An ongoing basic income pilot in Canada’s most populous province that gave people with low incomes a no-strings-attached monthly support payment was unceremoniously cancelled on Tuesday by the administration of newly elected Progressive Conservative Premier Doug Ford.

Under the Ontario basic income pilot, individuals who make under $34,000 CAD annually received up to $17,000 per year, and couples earning under $48,000 received up to $24,000, minus 50 percent of any earned income; people with disabilities received up to $6,000 more per year.

The basic income pilot got off to a slow start in July of 2017 and was supposed to run for three years. The trial spanned several municipalities, enrolled 4,000 people, and eclipsed the support offered by the current unemployment support program, Ontario Works. Participants told Motherboard in February that the supports they received gave them peace of mind and the ability to pursue schooling and community work.

The basic income program was slated to cost the Ontario government $50 million per year. In Ontario, the cost of poverty arising from stress on the healthcare system, loss of productivity, cost of social programs, and so on, is estimated to be in the tens of billions.

Minister of Children, Community and Social Services Lisa MacLeod made the announcement at a press conference, reportedly calling the program expensive and “clearly not the answer for Ontario families.”

Read More: Basic Income Is Already Transforming Life and Work In a Postindustrial Canadian City

Before he was elected, Ford promised that he would not cancel the basic income pilot—which started under the Liberal government. A member of his campaign told the Toronto Star, “we look forward to seeing the results.” Now, there will be no results to speak of.

“We are devastated by this decision. It makes no sense,” Tom Cooper, director of the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction, wrote me in an email. The Roundtable was instrumental in enrolling Hamilton citizens in the basic income program when the provincial government was struggling to find participants.

“The pilot participants who were brave enough to contribute to this social policy experiment will now have to contend with returning to lives of deep poverty and struggle,” Cooper wrote. “All of the evidence from the project demonstrated the pilot was helping people get back into the workforce, eat healthier and participate in community activities.”

It’s unclear what will happen to the people who enrolled in the basic income program, many of whom were not on any kind of social support previously. Cooper noted that there is supposed to be a “rapid reinstatement” process for people who were previously enrolled in social supports, but for those who weren’t—”Part time jobs etc... they are on their own it seems,” Cooper wrote.

"The province will begin winding down the [basic income] research project in a thoughtful, responsible way and share more details on that process in the coming weeks," Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services spokesperson Kristen Tedesco wrote me in an email. "Until then, the payments for the Ontario Basic Income research project are being maintained at the amount of the July 25 payment."

Read More: Basic Income Is Being Set Up to Fail

In a news release, the Ontario government stated that it is working on a new social assistance plan for the province that “focusses [sic] on helping people lift themselves out of poverty” and has set a 100-day deadline for a proposal.

In the interim, the government will boost supports to people on Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program by 1.5 percent—an increase, but only half of the 3 percent promised by the ousted Liberal government.

The basic income proposal for Ontario had major flaws that fatally hindered its transformative potential—it forced people to give up some disability supports, turning them into out-of-pocket expenses, and it was arguably too small to really test the community effects of a real basic income. It was too easily, and obviously, hijack-able by right wing interests.

But for all of its problems, the Ontario basic income pilot still offered more to people, financially speaking, than the current system. It is highly doubtful that whatever comes next will do the same.

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Update: This article was updated with comment from the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services.

Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that the Ontario basic income pilot got its start in October of 2017; in fact, the first basic income payments were made in July of 2017. Motherboard regrets the error.