Conservative MPP says he’s supportive of basic income, but not jacking up minimum wage rates

Roderick Benns

An Ontario Progressive Conservative MPP, Randy Hillier, says he supports basic income policy as a tool to help those in vulnerable circumstances.

The MPP for Lanark, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington, a large rural area in southeastern Ontario, says the social safety net as it exists right now is not up to the job.

“I’m generally supportive of basic income. Our social safety net leaves a lot to be desired. In many cases, with existing programs, there are disincentives for people to improve their lot in life, with claw backs on earnings,” he points out.

Hillier refers to Ontario Works, the welfare program for the province where any more than $200 in additional earnings by someone on assistance will trigger a claw back of 50 cents on the dollar, something long viewed as a work disincentive.

“The guaranteed basic income would be an improvement on that, so I’d like to see the pilot go forward,” Hillier says, referring to the pilot project on basic income expected to be announced next week in the budget.

Hillier says he hopes the government will structure the pilot’s design so that it’s an upper tier level municipality conducting it, rather than a lower tier.

“It should be a level that is used to administering social services – that’s far more beneficial,” he says.

A basic income is a payment that ensures a minimum income level. It is designed to help people meet their basic needs while supporting long-term social and economic prosperity and security for everyone.

While he supports basic income as a tool to help people living in poverty, Hillier says he’s not in favour of minimum wage legislation that jacks up the rate for employers to pay. He says no province in the country has expanded its minimum wage workforce as Ontario has, and it has been to the province’s detriment.

“It’s nearly 10 percent of our workforce now,” the MPP says. “That’s higher than the Maritimes.”

He says “the purpose and objective of working for minimum wage was not to establish a career wage, it was thought to be a way of protecting the most vulnerable” while they endeavoured to find other work.

When challenged that perhaps the fight for a higher minimum wage was because of the rise of precarious work, Hillier had a different take.

He says that as his party’s Labour critic for a number of years, he has found that much of Ontario’s labour legislation intended to improve employment for people has has “the unintended consequence of hurting employers.”

He says one of the reasons there is a greater desire for employers to hire people on contract, or on a temporary basis today is because it’s “too difficult to end the employment if the person isn’t satisfactory.”

Hillier says he’d like “to see us move beyond “some government-mandated basic wage.”

“That’s too blunt of an instrument. We need an economy generating significant wealth to raise people’s incomes.”

-- This article was originally published in the Precarious Work Chronicle here.