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Ford government vows basic-income pilot will receive ‘lengthy runway’ before cancellation

Ontario Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod speaks with the media after Question Period at the Ontario Legislature in Toronto on Thursday, August 2, 2018.

Chris Young

Ontario has pledged that there will be a “lengthy and compassionate runway” before the province’s basic-income pilot project comes to an end − a program on which 4,000 low-income people have come to rely.

Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod announced last week that Premier Doug Ford’s government is cutting in half planned increases to social-assistance rates this year and had decided to cancel the basic-income pilot, despite a campaign promise to allow the three-year experiment to run its course.

On Wednesday, Ms. MacLeod dismissed concerns that the pilot project would be ending soon.

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“I have been very clear since last week that the basic-income research project will wind down and details will be forthcoming, but I have been clear that there will be a lengthy and compassionate runway,” Ms. MacLeod told reporters at Queen’s Park. She said she would “provide those details in the next week or two.”

Related: Federal government urged to save Ontario’s basic-income pilot project

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Opinion: It’s in everyone’s interests to finish Ontario’s basic-income pilot project

Community agencies have said that participants in the project received notices last week that their payments would continue through August, but there was no information on the program beyond that.

The basic-income pilot project was launched last year as one of former Liberal premier Kathleen Wynne’s marquee initiatives. The program was set to run for three years with payments to 4,000 low-income people in Hamilton, Thunder Bay and Lindsay.

New Democratic Leader Andrea Horwath was joined by 30 recipients of the basic income who travelled from her hometown of Hamilton to Queen’s Park on Wednesday to protest against Mr. Ford’s decision to cut the program.

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“I’m incredibly worried about what this Premier’s cuts mean to the most vulnerable people across Ontario. Cutting social assistance and cancelling the basic-income pilot means that more people will be forced to go to food banks, more people will be at risk of homelessness and more people will struggle to survive,” Ms. Horwath, Leader of the Official Opposition, told the legislature.

“It’s bullying the most vulnerable people in our province,” she added.

The basic-income project, which cost $50-million annually, has provided people with an income to test whether the extra funds would improve their job prospects and quality of life. The idea was to give the province’s working poor, unemployed and homeless residents an income to pay for their basic needs of food and housing. A single person could receive up to $16,989 a year and a couple could get up to $24,027 annually. As much as 50 per cent of earned income was deducted from the payments.

Sheila Regehr, the chair of the Basic Income Canada Network, said that basic income was a better choice than traditional forms of social assistance such as welfare. She pointed to two other programs that Canadians enjoy that are based on the same principals of basic income: Old Age Security for seniors and the Canada Child Benefit for parents.

Tom Cooper, the director of the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction, said people who had banked on the program and Mr. Ford’s campaign promise that he would maintain it were scrambling and worried that they would need to break apartment leases and school-tuition agreements they could no longer afford.

“Nobody was expecting this. People are reeling and scared … this was a completely irresponsible decision, to announce the cut of this program without any plan on how it will end,” he said.

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Speaking in the legislature on Wednesday, Mr. Ford said that his government would help lower-income Ontarians more efficiently by cutting hydro bills and making gasoline cheaper. “My friends, do you know what they want more than anything? They want a good-paying job, and we’re going to provide them with a good-paying job,” Mr. Ford said.

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