Local MPP and Minister of Labour Laurie Scott says there were “too many concerns” about the Ontario Basic Income Pilot to let it go on — but then also noted if it were successful it would have been too expensive to implement Ontario-wide.
Scott, who was responding to questions provided by the Lindsay Advocate, made the seemingly contradictory remarks in her emailed response, although she wasn’t the only one. The lead minister on this file, Lisa MacLeod, said the same thing yesterday, in an effort to stem the growing pressure to see the decision reversed.
The Advocate asked the following questions to Laurie Scott:
How hard did Minister Scott fight to retain this program for Lindsay in her riding?
What did she say about it?
Why wasn’t she successful?
How can she tolerate this when she knows there are so many people in her riding who are depending on that money — from entrepreneurs, to single parents, to working poor people?
Laurie Scott’s response, in its entirety, is as follows:
“The decision to wind down the Ontario Basic Income pilot project comes as a result of too many concerns about the program. The winding down of the project will be done in a compassionate way and with a runway. Lindsay residents on the program will continue to receive their benefits for the next several months, and will be transitioned back to Ontario Works/ODSP or OSAP for students.
Since taking office as a new government, we’ve been working hard to deliver on immediate priorities for the people of Ontario, and we will continue to do so as we make the proper resolution of this program a priority.
A toll-free call centre has been established to provide information and answer questions from those on the program. The call centre can be reached at 1-844-217-4516.
The cost to expand the program would be $17 Billion – which would amount to adding 6 to 7 cents to the HST. That would hurt the very people we want to help.
It makes a lot more sense to use what we learn from the study so far, and take a more affordable, responsible approach.
With the current system, almost half of all people who leave Ontario Works end up back on it – with 90 percent of those people ending up back on assistance within a year. One in five people on Ontario Works stays in the system for over five years. One in 14 people continue to live in poverty. 10,000 more people go on ODSP every year, and caseworkers spend up to 90% of their time on paper work.
Our plan will also cut gas prices by ten cents per litre, lower hydro rates, scrap the carbon tax and provide tax relief to minimum wage earners and working parents – all of which will benefit low income people.”
Last year, the Advocate interviewed Laurie Scott who noted then she was “glad Lindsay was chosen” and that she welcomed the basic income pilot. From a local business standpoint, the MPP thought then the basic income pilot would certainly help the local economy.
“Money in people’s pockets is money they’ll spend, my father used to say,” she said at the time, referring to the late former federal Member of Parliament, Bill Scott.
“This is certainly the right sized community for it to develop the local economy.”
Mike Perry, who was chair of the Kawartha Lakes Food Coalition at the time, successfully led his team on a quest to convince the Province that the basic income trial should be in Lindsay. He is angry the new government has ripped this away from so many citizens.
“We are standing up for the program, but most importantly for the people here,” he tells the Advocate.
“This has personal impact for so many – not just a dry policy decision,” he adds.
Perry says advocates for the program are “doing everything we can to show why cancelling this is a bad idea.”
“We’re calling on the government to do the right thing,” and restore the pilot.
The Basic Income Canada Network (BICN) and the Ontario Basic Income Network (OBIN) address the government’s cost argument in a recent press release.
“The Ontario government may well determine that this program requires federal cost-sharing, but that is a matter for public discussion and should be based on the evidence and experience derived from the pilot project,” stated Sheila Regehr of BICN and Joe Foster of OBIN.
“Better yet, the government could lead by beginning conversations now about how a national program, like the ones for seniors and children, is a feasible path that warrants exploration,” they said, referencing the Canada Child Benefit and the Guaranteed Income Supplement.
“We are heartbroken at the thought that women, men and children have started to regain hope and rebuild their lives around a government promise that is being dishonoured so abruptly. It is devastating,” says Regehr and Foster.
“Out of human dignity and decency, we sincerely hope the Ontario government will reconsider its path and avoid perpetrating a cruel, misguided breach of trust.”
(* Full disclosure: Lindsay Advocate Publisher Roderick Benns has been a member of OBIN and continues to work with BICN to further the cause of basic income.)