News / Canada

Premier Kathleen Wynne touts basic-income pilot project to help poor

Premier Kathleen Wynne is hopeful a guaranteed minimum income pilot project will be running next year.

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne attends the Council of the Federation in Vancouver, B.C., Wednesday, March. 2, 2016.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne attends the Council of the Federation in Vancouver, B.C., Wednesday, March. 2, 2016.

Premier Kathleen Wynne is hopeful a landmark pilot project that would give some of the province’s poorest residents a guaranteed minimum income will be in place next year.

In her most detailed comments yet on a measure introduced in Finance Minister Charles Sousa’s Feb. 25 budget, Wynne said the poverty-reduction proposal comes from “a real concern around the way social assistance works in Ontario.

“What we want people to do is build up capacity in their lives so they can be successful,” she said in an interview with CBC Radio in Kitchener-Waterloo broadcast Thursday.

To that end, the government is designing a test program to be conducted in a yet-to-be-determined Ontario community that would guarantee a minimum living income regardless of a recipient’s employment status.

Wynne said officials “are working on this and they will be bringing advice to our cabinet on how we might set up such a project.”

“So it’s very much actively engaged. This isn’t something that in five years we want to look at. We’re looking at it right now and I am going to be looking for some very practical advice on how we could set up a project,” she said, adding “my hope” is that it is in next year’s budget.

“Just the design of the program is a year.”

Asked about the potential expense of a guaranteed income, Wynne noted that a 1974 federal test in Dauphin, Manitoba, led to fewer hospital and doctor visits, reduced instances of mental health problems and higher student grades and graduation rates.

“That was in the 70s — I want to see what, in 2016, it would look like to actually set up a project and see if we could get some better outcomes,” she said of the Mincome program scrapped in 1979 due to federal budget cuts.

“We’re already paying billions of dollars in terms of social assistance. So are we using that money in the best way possible? That’s the question that I have for a project like this.”

In last month’s budget Sousa said the “pilot project will test a growing view at home and abroad that a basic income could build on the success of minimum-wage policies and increases in child benefits by providing more consistent and predictable support.”

“The pilot would also test whether a basic income would provide a more efficient way of delivering income support, strengthen the attachment to the labour force and achieve savings in other areas, such as health care and housing supports,” the treasurer said in the spending plan.

Ian Ottawa, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government is also examining the basic-income concept, although it is unclear whether it will be contained in federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s budget Tuesday.

Progressive Conservative MPP Bill Walker cautioned Ontarians against getting their hopes up that the provincial Liberals will deliver on the promise.

“You’re playing with people’s lives here, particularly people at the lowest level of income that need our supports the most,” Walker (Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound) said at Queen’s Park.

“We need to ensure we’re doing the right things. At Community and Social Services, they often come with the really nice 30-second sound-bite, but have they really done the homework?” he asked.

“Do they really know what the cost is going to be? Did they really actually have the money allotted in their budget, which they have full and total control over? It’s disingenuous . . . and it really is sad that they will do that just to make people be pacified into believing it’s all good.”