Residents living in the Ontario communities of Hamilton, Lindsay and Thunder Bay will be the first to receive a guaranteed minimum income as part of a new provincial pilot project.
Premier Kathleen Wynne made the announcement alongside Minister of Community and Social Services Helena Jaczek and Minister of Housing Chris Ballard in Hamilton, Ont. on Monday.
“In the three communities, it won’t be every person that applies. We won’t be able to do that,” Wynne explained. “There will be a limit to that number. There will be an application process and there will be criteria that will be very clear to people as they apply.”
The province has already earmarked $75 million for the three-year pilot project which is set to begin this year.
“We chose these communities intentionally because they are the right size and they have the right kind of mix of population,” Wynne said.
Wynne said the level of support starts at just under $17,000 a year for single people, and while that isn’t extravagant, she says it will make a real difference in people’s lives.
“We want to find out whether a basic income makes a positive difference in people’s lives,” Wynne said. “Whether this new approach gives them the ability to begin to achieve their potential and whether it is an approach that can be adopted across our province as a whole.”
The criteria for implementing the basic income plan is based on a discussion paper released by former senator Hugh Segal last fall, who recommended a monthly income of $1,320 with another $500 for people with disabilities, to replace the Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program.
The government recently completed a three-month public consultation phase in which 1,200 participants attended and over 34,000 online surveys were filled out.
A report on the consultation feedback released in March revealed that many agreed the pilot participants should be between the ages of 18 to 64 and living in various settings such as urban, rural and northern locations.
“It says to them, ‘The government is with you. The people of Ontario are with you.’ We’re here to help you get through the hard times as you get back on your feet,” Wynne said.
VIDEO: Is a guaranteed income the answer to the problem of poverty?
Basic income has only been tried once before in Canada back in the 1970s in Dauphin, Man.
A subsequent study found hospital visits and domestic abuse dropped, with the rate of high school completion going up.
However, critics argue the strategy can discourage people from working and may simply be a Band-Aid solution to poverty.
“Poverty is much more than just a lack of income,” Charles Lamman, director of fiscal studies at the Fraser Institute, said. “There are fundamental root drivers of poverty, things like mental health, addiction that a guaranteed income can’t fix.”
Segal wrote in his discussion paper that the pilot should look at health outcomes for those involved as well as the life and career choices they make, education outcomes, work behaviour, changes in food security and impacts on their housing arrangements.
-With a file from The Canadian Press and Shirlee Engel