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ONTARIO, CANADA: New Government Declares Early End of Guaranteed Income Experiment

Photo: Ontario Premier Doug Ford (CC BY-SA 2.0 Bruce Reeve)

 

Ontario’s new center-right government announced on July 31 that it will “wind down” the Canadian province’s experimental trial of a type of guaranteed minimum income.

The experiment, which has been providing 4,000 low-income Ontarians a guaranteed annual income of C$16,989 for single individuals and C$24,027 for couples, had been launched in April 2017 and originally slated to continue for three years.

Lisa MacLeod, Minister of Children, Community and Social Services, announced the project’s cancellation during a press conference on the recently elected government’s plan to address poverty and reform social assistance (video below).

Her spoken remarks were accompanied by a News Release and Backgrounder from the Government of Ontario Newsroom.

The experiment had been created and launched under the province’s previous government, led by Premier Kathleen Wynne and the center-left Ontario Liberal Party. On June 7, 2018, the Progressive Conservative (PC) Party emerged as victors in Ontario’s general election, with Doug Ford as new Premier.

However, despite the government’s shift to the right, there was no initial anticipation that the guaranteed income experiment would be cancelled after the Ford government assumed control on June 29.

On the contrary, as recently as April, a spokesperson had told reporters at The Star that the PC Party would continue the guaranteed income pilot. In an article dated April 24, the Toronto-based newspaper states that party spokesperson Melissa Lantsman replied, “Nope, as mentioned we look forward to seeing the results,” when asked if a PC government would “kill the innovative experiment.”

At Tuesday’s press conference, however, MacLeod unexpectedly announced that the provincial government has established a 100-day deadline to develop a “sustainable social assistance program that focuses on helping people lift themselves out of poverty,” which is to focus on the reintegration into to the workforce of those who are able to work.

After castigating the preceding Liberal government for creating a “mess” and “patchwork system” of programs, MacLeod stated, “We are also going to wind down the Ontario basic income research project, which is clearly not the answer for Ontario families.”

In another controversial announcement, MacLeod declared that the government would increase support to those who enrolled in the province’s existing social assistance and disability programs, Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program, by 1.5 percent — in contrast to the 3 percent promised by the previous government.

Following her prepared remarks, the Minister of Children, Community and Social Services fielded questions on the government’s decision to discontinue the guaranteed income trial. When pressed to provide data or specific examples to corroborate her claim that the piloted program is “clearly not the answer” for poverty in Ontario, she offered no details, stating only that the pilot is “not doing what it’s intended to do,” “quite expensive,” and “for the amount it was costing … certainly not going to be sustainable.”

Similarly, initial announcements released on the Government of Ontario Newsroom said only that the Ministry will be “winding down” the research project “in order to focus resources on more proven approaches,” and that “three-year study of no-strings attached payments is not the answer Ontario families need.”     

MacLeod initially divulged no details concerning how or when the project will be terminated, stating only that she wanted “to assure Ontarians on the pilot project right now that we will do it ethically.” On the following day, however, a news report from the Canadian Press noted that experimental participants “received an email Wednesday saying their payments would continue through August but got no further details about how the project would be phased out.”

MacLeod has defended the government’s decision to cancel the pilot in the face of opposition and dismay from anti-poverty advocates, other Ontarian politicians (including the leaders of the left New Democratic Party and Green Party), and the program’s beneficiaries (see, e.g., CBC, HuffPost Canada, and The Lindsay Advocate, the local newspaper of one of the experiment’s major test sites).

On the day following the announcement, she told the press that the program was “a disincentive to get people back on track” and failed to help beneficiaries become “independent contributors to the economy,” adding, “When you’re encouraging people to accept money without strings attached, it really doesn’t send the message that I think our ministry and our government wants to send. We want to get people back on track and be productive members of society where that’s possible.”

With nearly two years of the trial remaining, no results of the experiment had yet been formally analyzed. However, some participants, such as members of Hamilton’s Living Proof, had voluntarily shared personal anecdotes about how the guaranteed income program was improving their lives.

 

Not Really a “Basic Income” Pilot

The amount of the payments to experimental participants was conditional on household status (couples receive less than single individuals living apart) as well as income (the amount of the benefit is reduced at the rate of 50% of additional earned income). For these reasons, the program being tested in Ontario was not technically a basic income as defined by BIEN. As Karl Widerquist has recently pointed out, it is more aptly described as a negative income tax.

However, the project has standardly been called a “basic income” experiment by the Government of Ontario, and the Basic Income Canada Network, BIEN’s Canadian affiliate, has accepted the usage; for example, the latter convened the 2018 North American Basic Income Guarantee Congress at Hamilton, Ontario, one of the experiment’s test sites, and invited participants and researchers as featured speakers. In general, the basic income community has taken a keen interest in the experiment, and one not borne out of mere terminological confusion; even if not a basic income strictly speaking, the piloted program eliminated many conditionalities central to most welfare programs in Canada and other developed nations, such as the requirement to work or look for work.

Correspondingly, basic income advocates have reacted vociferously to the sudden and unexpected announcement of the project’s premature demise. Roderick Benns, one of Canada’s leading journalists on the topic, has summarized the decision as “ideologically driven,” “mean-spirited,” and “wrong.” The US-based Economic Security Project, which is currently funding the development of a basic income trial in California, also responded quickly to the announcement with a blog entry condemning the move as “short-sighted and irresponsible,” undermining promising research as well as hurting the lives of the program’s recipients.

 

Really a Premature End

Earlier in the year, news media inaccurately reported that the Government of Finland was also about to pull the plug on its two-year basic income experiment launched at the beginning of 2017. In this case, however, the government had announced only that it would not fund any extension or expansion of the project beyond this initial two-year trial, prompting the government body responsible running the experiment to issue a clarificatory statement.

While the announcement from Finland was a disappointment for those researchers and advocates who had hoped for an expansion of the experiment, the Finnish experiment will be completed and analyzed as originally planned. In contrast, the Ontario government does intend what had earlier been feared in Finland: the premature termination of its experiment as early as this month.

 

More Information

Official news releases from the Government of Ontario can be followed and accessed here: https://news.ontario.ca/newsroom/en.

The previous provincial government’s official website on the pilot study is still available “for archival and research purposes” here: https://www.ontario.ca/page/ontario-basic-income-pilot.

 

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Reviewed by Dawn Howard

 

About Kate McFarland

Kate McFarland has written 511 articles.

Former lead writer and editor of Basic Income News.

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The views expressed in this Op-Ed piece are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the view of Basic Income News or BIEN. BIEN and Basic Income News do not endorse any particular policy, but Basic Income News welcomes discussion from all points of view in its Op-Ed section.

9 comments

  • Lisa Macleod is now the official poster idiot of the anti-Basic Income Movement. With no data, she asserts to an entire nation (world, really) that the pilot is not working and is “clearly not the answer.” She is a puppet of her employer, throwing an entire province under the bus to uphold a baseless ideology of “self sufficiency.”

  • NoDifference

    Agree with Diane Pagen re MacLeod. I have been hearing mostly inane reasons in opposition to BI, including the fear that it might not be implemented the right way or that it could be insufficiently funded. These are ridiculous because ANY program of the government (or even a business for that matter) is sure to fail if poorly implemented or insufficiently funded.

    MacLeod, though, does not trifle with any inane reasons. Instead she summarily dismisses BI altogether with absolutely no reason. What is horrifying (but fully expected) is that the press, in its usual go-along-to-get-along fashion, does not press her or the government for any tangible reason. The fault here lies more with an incompetent press than the vacuous ravings of lunatics like MacLeod.

    I am losing patience with the whole lot.

  • John Shipman

    I knew Ford was going to cut the BI and attack social assistance, and posted warnings of this in several places, including my Facebook. However, something I have yet to see discussed (it may be addressed on this site, but I just discovered this site and have yet to peruse it extensively) is why there needs to be further ‘testing’ or ‘research’ when there have already been several tests and studies done, such a Dauphin. Dauphin, especially, has proven that basic income is indeed beneficial not only to the recipients but also the area it is done in.
    I would say it baffles me why basic income has not been implemented world wide, but it doesn’t. I know exactly why basic income is not globally implemented… Because those who reside high on the hill in their mansions are terrified that those in the valley may end up on a level playing field, Because once there’s a level playing field the fight for survival becomes fair.

  • W.

    We dont need stupid studies, what we need is this: if the wealthy have a right to be idle so does everyone else or the wealthy forfeit the wealth they stole from the population instantly. If there is even a single hungry person in a society then the wealth held in the names of millionaires and billionaires is a luxury of misappropriation which cannot be afforded and needs to be transfered back to the people with interest immediately. We can no longer afford to allow confiscated wealth to project its zero or negative contribution of theft back on to the very people who created the wealth, the very people from whom the wealth was stolen. Systems of wage slavery not only manufacture scarcity but also use money as a means of abject control, these are systems of defacto mass murder as thesesm systems steal the lives and fulfilment of life’s promise from masses of people.

    We can should be asking how we can give life prison terms to these politicians for crimes against humanity. There is no way to construe these people as acting on behalf of any legitimate group. Lying advocates of injustice do not express legitimate philosophical differences they are agents of extreme public harm and merchants of fear who manufacture scarcity- they attemp to jail the many for the gluttony of the few, they are rightly considered hard criminals.

    • Norm

      Tyvm Stalin. I found that fulfilling. I did install security systems to stop these millionaires from stealing my money but it turned out it was me freely giving my money to them in return for product and service. As for BI, the stats around the world are in,( if you actually looked). If you pay a bunch of ppl to sit around and do nothing then your results are guaranteed. I didnt see any attack on disabled or people that have no choice. We support those that cant support themselves, but just giving people free money in hope they will do better for society is naive and living on the backs of capitalism is a great way to destroy our way of life and usher in communism. Im not a rich guy. Im middle class, but marxism would surely destroy what I worked hard to achieve.

    • Andre Coelho

      Dear Norm,

      Basic Income is not an attack on middle class workers. Most importantly: it DOES NOT mean we are paying “a bunch of people to sit around and do nothing”. Because you’re the one saying they will do nothing, it is an assumption that has been rebutted by many basic income pilot tests (you can check the Internet for the evidence).

      Basic Income has no political affiliation, not in the concept it doesn’t. It can calibrated in many ways, depending on ideology, that’s true and, quite frankly, unavoidable. But if we want a just, peaceful and happy society, we will have to stride for access to resources for all, real freedom in life and quality time for each person. Basic Income will not destroy what you worked hard to achieve. On the contrary: it will make sure you never lose it.

      Best regards,

      André Coelho

  • Hi,
    Most people don’t know and understand how corporation are getting rich and how make people pur and dependable on them after political maneuver destroy small businesses. Corporation is not person and shouldn’t have a right to own anything just leases property for short time.
    If you do not control corporation, corporation will control you and you end up homeless.
    I n the future, if you do not control corporation, they will hire robots to do all jobs and you will die from starvation.
    Think.
    You must stop them and tax them so you fork for you (the people) or they are out of business.
    Be smart and act NOW!
    Glandot

  • Pete Connelly (UK)

    Shows the danger of voting in right wing governments. It’s getting worse all over the western world. These muppets only care about themselves and wealth. I am a UK Liberal (Centre of political ground), but I’m becoming more left wing (through necessity) by the minute. How sad !

  • S. Cobbler

    The wealthy have benefitted from govt assistance for decades. There are plenty of ‘needy’ people who don’t have disabilities or drug addictions. EVERYONE NEEDS BASISC INCOME. The politics of means based, entitlements mucks up the roll-out process for Basic Income and stymies the drastic social reform needed to lift all members of society to a dignified quality of life. The current economic system provides no protection against rampant inflation, automation and unemployment / underemployment. In less than a decade, there will be no middle class. This is a humanitarian emergency – reinstate Basic Income Guarantee NOW.

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