Ontario Tories to scrap basic income pilot, reduce planned increase to social assistance rates

Ontario's Children, Community and Social Services Minister Lisa Macleod attends Question Period at Queen's Park, in Toronto on Tuesday, July 31, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Ontario’s new Progressive Conservative government ushered in the first of what it promised would be major reforms to social assistance on Tuesday, reducing a planned increase in support rates and cancelling a pilot program that provided payments to low-income people in certain communities.

In an afternoon news conference, Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod said the government would come up with a plan within 100 days to overhaul the “disjointed patchwork system” left by the previous Liberal regime.

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The Liberals, she said, spent money the province didn’t have on “handouts that actually do little if anything to break the cycle of poverty.”

READ MORE: Ontario basic income pilot project to be tested in Hamilton, Lindsay, Thunder Bay

The province’s first steps will be to cancel the previous government’s plan to raise Ontario Disability Support Program and Ontario Works rates by three per cent and raise them by 1.5 per cent instead, said MacLeod, adding the decision was made “on compassionate grounds.”

“What I’m announcing today is about restoring dignity to Ontarians,” she said.

“But let me be clear: the best social program is a job, for those who can get one,” she said. “So I’ll be working with my colleagues… in making sure that we have an ability to integrate people back into the workforce where they can and making sure that they keep more money in their pockets.”

The minister would not say how much the change was expected to cost. “This decision isn’t about saving money, this decision is about fixing a broken system,” she said.

The province will also wind down Ontario’s basic income pilot project, which provided 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 per cent of any earned income.

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Asked how the government determined the pilot was ineffective before it was over, MacLeod simply said the program was “not doing what it’s intended to do and it’s quite expensive.”

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the government’s plan was “appalling” and would push people who were already struggling into deeper poverty.

“Mr. Ford’s attack on low-income people is disgusting,” the Opposition leader said in a statement. “And cancelling the unfinished and promising basic income pilot project is a waste and a shame.”

The announcement was also panned by Green party Leader Mike Schreiner, who said assistance rates were too low even with the increase promised by the Liberals.

“They (the Tories) certainly seem more interested in tearing things down than building things up,” he said.

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