Debate is heating up in Ontario over the province’s planned experiment in basic income, with a number of towns now vying for the chance to participate in the social assistance pilot project.
Aimed at alleviating the crushing weight of poverty, the idea of providing all citizens with a guaranteed basic income has a long history of periodically catching the interest of policymakers with an eye for social experimentation. This time, it’s the Ontario Liberal government who since November have been holding a series of public consultations on the topic in cities and towns across the province.
Potential sites for the pilot range across the length and breadth of the province, including Sudbury, Kenora, Sault Ste Marie as well as Smiths Falls, Ontario, where recently a heated discussion broke out over the issue at a town council meeting. Some citizens in favour of bringing the project to Smiths Falls were upset over city council’s 3-2 vote last month against sending a delegation to a conference of municipalities to pitch for Smiths Falls’ selection as a test site.
“It’s a community that’s faced some hardships, had some challenges and the people of our community felt that,” said Smiths Falls mayor Shawn Pankow, who supports bringing the pilot project to his town, to the CBC. “If you’re living in despair or addiction or crisis all the time because you can’t make ends meet and you don’t know where the next meal is going to come from, and you’re feeding non-nutritious food to your kids because that’s all you can afford, the future of those kids is going to be the same as the parents,” said Pankow.
Last year’s budget from the Ontario Liberals came with $25 million to be allocated in 2017 to test the idea “that a basic income could build on the success of minimum wage policies and increases in child benefits by providing more consistent and predictable support.” Former Conservative Senator Hugh Segal was tapped to head the project, with his report of this past fall proposing that the pilot pay adults between the ages of 18 and 65 a basic income of at least $1320 per month with an additional $500 for those with disabilities.
Segal says that poverty reduction is the goal and that far from being a hand-out, a guaranteed income would help ease the collective social and economic burdens that come with poverty. “Hopefully, this pilot project … will allow us to free up low-income people’s time so that they can make choices about their lives, be better parents, to get on with their lives and look for work and do better than they’re doing now,” said Segal to the CBC.
Although the federal government is not directly contributing to the cost of the upcoming pilot project, the federal Liberals have shown interest in the idea, passing a resolution last May at their Winnipeg convention to make the concept of a basic income party policy.
Last year, Senator Art Eggleton called for a national pilot project on the topic, saying, “Poverty costs us all. It expands health-care costs, policing burdens and depresses the economy.”