Ontario Minister hopeful for Basic Income pilot

By Roderick Benns

Chris Ballard, the Minister of Housing and Minister Responsible for the Poverty Reduction Strategy for Ontario, says he is hopeful the province’s Basic Income pilot will “put to rest” any doubts people have about how positive a minimum income strategy could be.

Ballard, who is overseeing the Basic Income pilot project initiated by Canada’s largest province, says some of the key things they want to look at from studying the pilot will be Basic Income’s impact on community health, individuals’ health, education, general quality of life, and how the policy might stimulate “attachment to the labour force.”

“How might this help people get back to work? This may be a phenomenal aspect (of Basic Income) where people feel they have a base to be able to get back to work,” Ballard says.

He notes the goal is all about inclusion, trying to ensure there are as many Ontarians actively involved as possible in participating in community life.

“We want to raise people up. We can’t afford to leave anybody behind. We’re actually leaving capabilities behind (by allowing poverty) and so I want to see how transformative a Basic Income can be to a community and to individuals,” he says.

Ballard says there’s “a lot of anxiety in the middle class these days,” given how much employment has changed.

Pointing out that he, too, comes from a blue collar background, he says he understands their anxiousness.

“Everybody is very sensitive with the changing nature of work. It’s not the same world, where you work in the same place for 30 years. We worked so hard as a society to get out of poverty, and then suddenly we’re fearful we might slide back in. Basic Income might provide a fantastic safety net,” he says, to help reduce anxiety.

Ballard says many advocates for Basic Income have heard of the Dauphin, Manitoba experiment, where a program called Mincome helped establish a reliable minimum income for about a third of the people who lived there. Although there were a number of positive outcomes from the data that researcher Dr. Evelyn Forget uncovered many years later, including reduced crime and hospital visits, the pilot was shut down early.

“It wasn’t complete, so it would be wonderful to look at Ontario’s pilot at the end – or even during – and say ‘look it’s working’ or, once and for all, say ‘it’s not working.’ My heart tells me this is a fantastic solution” to dramatically reduce poverty, the minister says.

Recommendations

Retired Senator Hugh Segal recently delivered his requested report to the Ontario government, where he made recommendations about the Basic Income pilot. Segal recommends a monthly payment of at least $1,320 for a single person which is about 75 percent of the province’s poverty line. For those with disabilities, he suggests a top-up of $500 more a month. The pilot is expected to be initiated in April of next year.

The government is consulting widely now, from people with lived experience in poverty, to indigenous communities, business owners, average Ontarians, and experts. Ballard says it’s important that they figure out how to measure success in advance.

The minister says the pilot will also help inform the government about the “impact on local economies” that a Basic Income might have.

“Intuitively, I would think more people working will have more spending money,” he says, and of course it would put more money in the hands of people living in poverty.

Federal Interest

When asked about federal interest in the pilot Ontario is conducting, Ballard said the federal minister is “keen” to see how Ontario will structure their pilot.

Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Families, Children and Social Development for Canada and an economist, “is certainly interested in the pilot, as are my provincial colleagues across Canada,” Ballard says.

“Ontario is leading the way here,” so there is a great deal of interest. He says he will be talking with Duclos regularly and sharing information.

Ballard points out that none other than Elon Musk, founder of Tesla Motors, was musing about the nature of work and pointing out earlier this month that a Basic Income was probably inevitable in the face of greater levels of automation.

“He and others understand the underlying anxiety that people rightly have about the nature of work,” Ballard says.

“And since we’re all well served with an inclusive society…Basic Income might just help all of us feel a lot more comfortable.”