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Mayors ask feds to take over basic income pilot

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TORONTO—The mayors of four Ontario cities are urging the federal government to take over a basic income pilot project that's being cut short by the province, arguing the program provides valuable data that could be used to address poverty.

In a joint letter, the mayors of Hamilton, Thunder Bay, Brantford, and Kawartha Lakes—communities that participated in the pilot—called on federal Social Development minister Jean-Yves Duclos to assume oversight of the program, which the province's Progressive Conservatives have claimed is failing.

“The Ontario government's cancellation of the pilot is distressing to participants and discouraging to all seeking a better way to assist vulnerable citizens,” the mayors wrote in the letter sent to Ottawa last week.

“Federal oversight of the Ontario Basic Income Pilot project would be the best option to revive the critical information that will be generated, protect pilot participants from crisis who entered into the program in good faith, and ensure the funds that have already been spent on this program are not wasted,” they noted.

The mayors added the program was being watched by jurisdictions around the world, with delegations from the U.K., Japan, South Korea, and the U.S. expressing interest.

When asked about the mayors' letter, a spokeswoman for Duclos said the federal government is open to sharing data with provinces that are launching guaranteed annual income initiatives but noted the design of such programs is up to those governments.

The basic income pilot was launched under the former Liberal government and was set to run for three years at a cost of $150 million.

Under the project, single participants receive up to $16,989 a year while couples receive up to $24,027, less 50 percent of any earned income.

The Tories had promised during the spring election to preserve the pilot but Social Services minister Lisa MacLeod said in July that the new government would change course because the program wasn't working—a claim experts have disputed.

The program's 4,000 participants now will receive their final payments from the government next March, the government has said.

Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger said he has doubts about the claims the Tories are using to justify cancelling the pilot.

The project's success or failure can't be determined without getting to the end of the program and evaluating the data gathered, he reasoned.

“I think they're making that up as they go along,” Eisenberger charged.

“Clearly, this program was working by witness of all of the testimonials that were out there.”

Eisenberger said he's hopeful the federal government could negotiate with the province to obtain the data gathered during the first year of the pilot and see the program through to completion.

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