OTTAWA—Ontario’s basic income pilot project — seen as a key test of potential remedies to reduce poverty — appears destined to end prematurely as the federal government suggests it’s not going to rescue a program axed by the province.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh on Tuesday called on Ottawa to step in and continue the program, saying it will produce “invaluable” data.
But that call to action got a cool response from the office of Jean-Yves Duclos, the federal minister of families, children and social development, who was given marching orders by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to craft a poverty reduction strategy.
Duclos spokesperson Valérie Glazer said that Liberal government initiatives, such as the child benefit, have already helped lift family members out of poverty.
And while she said Ottawa is open to sharing data with provinces launching income initiatives, “ultimately the design of provincial social programs, such as a basic income, is up to provincial governments.”
Dominic LeBlanc, minister of intergovernmental and northern affairs and internal trade, has also shown little enthusiasm for taking up the program, saying that Ottawa can’t serve as a “court of appeal.
“There are areas of provincial jurisdiction where we won’t be afraid to voice our policy differences or our political differences, but at the end of the day they are accountable to their voters for those decisions,” LeBlanc told the Star’s Susan Delacourt earlier this month.
The basic income pilot project — launched by the former Liberal government in Ontario in 2017 — provides $1,400 a month, no-strings-attached for people living in poverty. Those with disabilities receive an additional $500 a month. Some 4,000 people in Hamilton, Thunder Bay and Hamilton are participating in the program, which is meant to help guide future government efforts to reduce poverty.
During the election, the Progressive Conservatives pledged to keep the program but once in power, they backtracked on that vow and instead announced it would end in March, one year earlier than planned.
Last week, more than 100 Canadian CEO joined together to urge Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod to reverse the decision to cut short the trial. “We see a guaranteed basic income as a business-friendly approach to address the increasing financial precarity of our citizens and revitalize the economy,” the executives said in their letter.
Speaking at an innovation conference in Ottawa Tuesday, Singh urged Ottawa to step in and fund the final year of the $150-million project.
“It’s actually a great deal for us to be able to have access to this important data with a very reasonable investment given that most of the upfront costs of this pilot project has been taken care of,” Singh said later in an interview.
Singh said the pilot project was designed to last three years for good reason, to give researchers adequate data on its impact. “I think we can actually make an evidence-based decision that this program can work,” he said
He said such safety nets will become even more important in the future due to the changing nature of the labour market, with more automation. “We need to look at policies and strategies to help support people in a time of disruption,” Singh said.
With files from Laurie Monsebraaten
Bruce Campion-Smith is an Ottawa-based reporter covering national politics. Follow him on Twitter: @yowflier