Basic Income gone: Ford’s abrupt cancellation of program devastates Lindsay

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By Roderick Benns

Roderick Benns is the publisher of The Advocate. An award-winning author and journalist who grew up in Lindsay, he has written several books including Basic Income: How a Canadian Movement Could Change the World.

All over Ontario PC Leader Doug Ford promised over and over that “a new day will dawn in Ontario,” should he be elected, “for the people.”

Well, here’s his new day dawning for about 2,000 people who live in Lindsay, their lives just starting to be changed for the better by basic income — and it’s not the kind of day they were expecting.

Here’s his new day dawning for Roseanne Johnson who says she can’t survive without that money, and that she and her son will “soon be on the streets.”  Or Lauretta Blackman who saw her grandchildren for the first time because she finally had enough money for transportation.

Publisher Roderick Benns.

Here’s Premier Ford’s new day for Chris Robertson who had just started buying more nutritious food for herself and now fears she will be in a depression, like so many others. Or Shannon Farr and her husband, who both suffered debilitating accidents in different incidences in the last few years. They went years without transportation and had just started to finance a car once again, to help improve their life prospects. Now, she worries how they will ever possibly afford it.

Right now we think of Barb Doyle’s daughter who made the decision to go to college and was relying on basic income to make it happen. As her mother writes, “so many people signed leases, decided to go to school, invested in transportation…on the premise that the program would last three years. What are people supposed to do now that they can’t meet their obligations?”

Perhaps ironically it was Lisa MacLeod, the so-called minister of “Children, Community and Social Services” who delivered this news that will affect 10 per cent of Lindsay’s population, as well as 1,000 people in Thunder Bay and another 1,000 in Hamilton area. If ever a politician didn’t deserve this title, it may be her, considering it is kids, our social policy framework, and our community that she is affecting. Oh, but we’re not supposed to worry because the PC’s are going to take “100 days” and figure out something better – and this after promising to leave the pilot alone for the three years it was supposed to run.

Basic Income has been around since the 1790s as an idea, amassing boxes of evidence-based research from Canada and around the world over the past decades. Media across the globe have shone a spotlight on Lindsay to share what we’re doing here. But Ford and McLeod are going to figure out what we need to do in three months on the back of a napkin? Please.

The sum of $150 million – the approximate cost of this program in Ontario for three short years — may sound like a lot of money but it is chump change when it comes to the money governments spend on programs.

No, this was not a necessary move to save money. This was ideologically driven. It is mean-spirited.

It is wrong.

Remember this moment when the ‘tax cuts’ come later, suddenly affordable.

Ford knew that the evidence from the basic income pilot would show that it actually – surprise surprise – creates a healthier society when there are less people impoverished. He knew that the evidence would surely show that when we take the worry of poverty off people’s shoulders they become more involved in their communities, form better associations, do a better job raising their families, and have better mental health.

And where was Minister of Labour Laurie Scott during this debate, our own local MPP? How hard did she fight around that inner circle at the Cabinet table to keep basic income in Lindsay? Is she still fighting this decision now? These are questions we have asked her and will be reporting on soon.

Ford travelled all over Ontario during the recent election, pretending to be the man of the people, railing against the wealthy ‘elite’ (meanwhile he’s a multi-millionaire), and as soon as he arrives in office it’s time for Mike Harris 2.0.

We will not paint conservatism itself with this brush, for it was former Progressive Conservative Hugh Segal himself who designed the basic income program for the previous Ontario government. It was Progressive Conservative Leader Robert Stanfield in the 1970s who campaigned on the need for a ‘guaranteed annual income.’

No, we point to Ford himself and his particular brand of unkind, simplistic-minded politics that would rather divide people and harm communities, rather than see another government’s idea succeed.

Now, it’s time to react to the unkindness. It’s time to make our voices heard. Write to MPP Laurie Scott here and let her know what you think. Copy and paste that letter and then write to Ford himself here. Call Laurie Scott’s office at 705-324-6654. Call the Premier’s office at 416-325-1941.  To send mail: Premier of Ontario, Legislative Building, Queen’s Park , Toronto ON M7A 1A1.

Tell them to let the pilot finish and let the third-party evaluators do their job during and afterwards.

We don’t want Ford’s new day to dawn anymore on the people of Ontario.

Neither does Ron Hutton, a Lindsay man on basic income who had just gotten off disability and was experiencing more dignity with a little more money to live on.

“I myself wish I could work again, at least I would be seen as a human being. I voted for Ford because I believed he saw us. I believed he would do well for the poor, but unfortunately like all the governments we are just an inconvenience to them, someone to have our lives played with and changed drastically. We are people, not toys or dirt. I just want to be a person again…”

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