Lawyer and social worker Mike Perry led a small but determined group to hold a sit-in at the office of local MPP Laurie Scott Monday morning.
Protesters are demanding an apology from the Minister of Children, Community and Social Services, Lisa MacLeod, for the government’s treatment of participants in the basic income pilot program.
After peacefully protesting outside for a while, Perry and a small cadre went inside to tell a staff member of Scott’s that they were there to ask for an apology – and that they were going to wait in her office until they got a response. The surprised staffer quickly retreated, ostensibly to make a phone call.
“Usually when you break a contract you have to pay up – apparently not for the most vulnerable,” lawyer and social worker Mike Perry told the crowd outside, which included federal NDP candidate Barbara Doyle.
Today marks the final basic income payment given the Ford government’s early termination of the three-year program. Ending the program early, and without informing participants directly of the reason, abruptly sends participants back well under the poverty line.
Demonstrators outside were serving cake outside Scott’s office. Historically, upon learning that peasants could not afford bread during a famine, French Queen Marie Antoinette reportedly chided: “Then let them eat cake!”
Brian Markle, 80, was one of many supporters of basic income who turned up to show support for the premature cancellation of the innovative pilot.
“When I left high school, the opportunities were limitless,” he told the crowd. “Times have changed.”
Markle pointed out that more and more young people were facing precarious futures because of the lack of enough good jobs in this new economy. He noted basic income was ensuring that kids were better fed, that people were returning to school, and that more money was coming into the local businesses, among many other positive outcomes.
The ongoing three-year income was cancelled just after a year when the Ford government took office last June. The pilot program provided a basic income of up to $17,000 (for single people) with the goal of helping them take steps to get ahead out of poverty and was abruptly cut last year.
The government’s own ethics board did not approve how the program was ended. A legal action was filed last fall seeking the court’s reversal of the cancellation on the grounds it was irrational, unethical and made in bad faith. The court ruled it lacked jurisdiction to overturn a government policy decision.
Basic income participant, Tracey Mechefske of Lindsay was using the basic income to grow her home business. “My disability prevented me from working outside the home,” Mechefske says. “A home-based business gave me the freedom and ability to make a living. I invested a lot of the basic income to grow the business to be more self-sufficient. That is all gone now.”
Mechefske, whose husband works, says they are literally “the working poor.” She says she’s been now busy closing down her business.
“We’ll have to remortgage our home now,” she adds.
Dana Bowman had education on her mind with basic income, among other things.
“I could afford to go back to school,” says Bowman. “It was a two-year (school) program and now my goal is gone. I was doing everything right under this program and then it was just pulled away. I am back to square one now living below the poverty line.”
Local family physician, Dr. Steve Oldridge, supported the pilot project and saw positive results for peoples’ health. He is angry about the Ford government’s early cancellation: “This is a cut at the expense of low income and people with disabilities. Where are the cuts at the other end? This is not fair or just.”
The Ford government campaigned on “buck-a-beer” and last week gave out $10 million in public funds for the private sector horse racing industry.
Mike Perry applied with participants asking to overturn the government’s decision to cancel the basic income pilot early.
“Today we stand in solidarity with all those who are struggling to make ends meet: people who can’t work or can’t find good paying jobs,” stated Perry. Today’s action is inspired by the sit-ins of the U.S. civil rights movement.
“This was not a decision to end some dry policy; this is hurting real people in real ways. It is immoral for people to be relegated to poverty in a province as rich as Ontario. We need more good jobs and education,” he adds.
The Toronto law firm of Cavalluzzo LLP has taken on the class action lawsuit for damages to the basic income participants as a result of the early cancellation of the basic income program. The firm is “dedicated to social advocacy and the protection of working people.”