TORONTO—A basic income pilot project aimed at reducing poverty in Ontario is failing and many of the participants have dropped out, the province's Progressive Conservative government said yesterday as it defended its controversial decision to wind down the program.
Social Services minister Lisa MacLeod said pilot participants would receive their cheques past August, and the program's end date would be announced later this month.
“I just wanted to point out, to begin with, the basic income research project is failing, and it's plain and simple,” MacLeod said during Question Period.
"The [previous] Liberal government had difficulty signing people up for this approach.
“Now a sizable number, over 25 percent, have either dropped out or were failing to meet their obligations such as filing their taxes,” she noted.
“It calls into question whether the $150 million being spent is actually going to be with valid research.”
MacLeod announced last week that the program, launched last year by the previous Liberal government, would come to an end because it was expensive and was not doing what it was intended to do.
She downplayed concerns from some community agencies that the government would stop the payments at the end of August.
“I've been very clear since last week that the basic income research project will wind down and details will be forthcoming,” MacLeod said.
“But I have been very clear that there will be a lengthy and compassionate runway,” she added.
“Anybody who's suggesting that cheques will be cut off is misinforming people and that's not fair ”
The basic income pilot project was set to run for three years, providing payments to 4,000 low-income people in communities including Hamilton, Brantford, Thunder Bay, and Lindsay.
Single participants receive up to $16,989 a year while couples receive up to $24,027, less 50 percent of any earned income.
Anti-poverty advocates for the basic income project came to the Ontario legislature yesterday to urge the government not to cancel the program.
Tom Cooper, from the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction, said MacLeod should release reports and documentation to back up her claim that the pilot wasn't working.
“If Minister MacLeod says this is what the civil servants said, then release the memos," he remarked. ”Let's see them. Be accountable.
“Especially be accountable to the 4,000 people this government is cutting off,” he said.
Cooper said that in the months after the pilot was launched last spring, government staffers told him they were very optimistic about the project.
“They seemed to think it was going really well,” he remarked.
Participants were stunned by news of the cancellation last week, Cooper added.
“This is something that was sprung on us," he said. ”No one expected this.
“People are reeling and they're scared.”
Sheila Regehr, chair of the Basic Income Canada Network, also took issue with MacLeod's comments.
The project was in such early stages, she said, that it was too early to know if it was succeeding or failing.
“There can be no evidence whatsoever to base a decision on to decide that this program isn't working,” Regehr charged.
“That's just nonsense.”
The Tory government also announced last week it was cutting a planned three-percent increase in social assistance to 1.5 percent—the first step in its plan to revamp the social assistance system.
MacLeod said that plan will be announced by Nov. 8.