Fifty years ago, MPP Cheri DiNovo’s father was involved with the Basic Income movement in Canada.
That shows the longevity of an idea that has refused to die, she says, as Ontario and other jurisdictions in Canada and around the world contemplate moving forward with some kind of minimum income guarantee.
While the NDP’s DiNovo is very supportive of the idea of a Basic Income for Ontarians, she is adamant it must bring people over the poverty line and that it be created in tandem with stronger workplace standards.
The new norm of precarious work in Ontario – defined as part-time, contract, or temp work, often without benefits – is “not serving us well,” she says.
“People are desperate. The rich are getting richer, the poor are poorer, and this kind of precarious work is terrifying for people,” she says.
“It’s no way to build a life.”
DiNovo, who serves as the NDP’s critic for Community and Social Services, also points out the “epidemic of poverty” in the province. Toronto is the child poverty capital of Canada with 133,000 children living in poverty, according to a report released last year. She says there are also too many people who are under-housed or homeless.
The MPP says that’s why she favours bringing in a Basic Income that brings people over the poverty line – about $20,000 per year – and then changing the landscape in which businesses operate. This includes making it easier for people to unionize, bringing a halt to so-called ‘scab’ labour, bringing in a minimum wage that begins at $15 per hour, and providing tax incentives for businesses to choose to hire people for full-time, permanent jobs.
“We don’t want a Basic Income to act as a subsidy for bad employers,” she explains.
The MPP isn’t worried about a Basic Income creating any kind of ‘work disincentive.’
“Nobody wants to sit at home making the poverty rate if they can make double that. People do want to work – it’s often what gives them satisfaction. They don’t want jobs that grind someone into the ground or employers that treat them like crap.”
When asked if jacking up the minimum wage, in tandem with a Basic Income and creating new workplace standards, would make Canada less competitive, she says this is the climate of fear that many multinationals try to stoke.
“It’s all based on fear. I’m just not that worried that McDonald’s or Tim Horton’s will pack up and leave” if we have better workplace standards, she says.
She points out that the Nordic nations and Germany have excellent labour standards compared to Canada’s, and that they have “solid economies.”
“Ontario can do better.”
Ultimately, DiNovo says that some form of minimum income is needed in Ontario. But she wants no part of a Basic Income that simply becomes a way for government to do social policy “on the cheap.”
“If it’s a tool in our toolbox then that’s great.”
Retired Conservative Senator Hugh Segal provided the Ontario government with recommendations for setting up a Basic Income in the province. In his report, 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, Segal suggests a top-up of at least $500 a month.
The Ontario Liberal government is expected to announce details this spring about the basic income pilot it is setting up. It is currently conducting consultations across Ontario to get feedback on the pilot.