Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives have gone back on their word by cancelling an experimental provincial program that offered financial support to 4,000 low-income Ontarians.
The pilot program was launched in April 2017 by the previous Liberal government and was set to last three years. It provided a minimum income of $17,000 per year to qualified people, minus half of their earned income.
This could allow a couple to receive up to $24,000 annually and people with disabilities were entitled to an additional $6,000.
In April, a spokeswoman for Ford, Melissa Lantsman, told the Toronto Star that the Tories had no plans to cancel the test program, and were "looking forward to seeing the results."
Three months later, Ford's government is calling it an expensive “patchwork system,” and announced the Tory government would replace it with “a system that helps stabilize people in need and support them to succeed.”
In a briefing on Tuesday, Ontario Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod said the program was “clearly not the answer for Ontario families.
In the March budget, the Liberals announced they would raise income assistance rates by three per cent. MacLeod announced the government will change that, increasing welfare rates by a smaller margin of 1.5 per cent.
The announcement marked the beginning of a 100-day revamp of provincial social assistance services, she said.
“Our plan will help get people back to work and keep them working, while supporting people with disabilities to work when they are able and participate in their communities,” said MacLeod in the statement.
MacLeod said the changes to social assistance will “go hand-in-hand” with recent government decisions to slash gas prices by 10 cents per litre, lower hydro rates and provide tax relief for working parents and minimum wage earners.
The number of people in Ontario who have signed onto social assistance has increased by 55 per cent over the past 15 years.
In a statement, Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner, the MPP for Guelph, said the PCs are “breaking a promise” to keep the basic income pilot and hurting welfare recipients depending on increase come September.
“Making cuts on the backs of our most vulnerable citizens will damage people’s lives and end up costing the province more in health care, policing and emergency services,” he said. “It is not possible for someone in my riding of Guelph or in communities across Ontario to live on $721 per month. Cutting the meagre three per cent increase in half is cruel.”
“It’s deeply frustrating that the pilot is being ended early before we have any evidence on whether it is working,” said Schreiner. “There are more compassionate ways the government could save money without targeting the most vulnerable.”
The provincial New Democrats also support the $50 million/year pilot project.
Ontario is not the first jurisdiction to experiment with a guaranteed income program, following initiatives previously introduced in the Netherlands and California.
In an April 2018 report, the parliamentary budget officer — a watchdog that reviews federal spending — estimated that it would cost Canada $44 billion per year if it adopted a nationwide guaranteed income program that was based on the Ontario model.