The B.C. government is studying Ontario's experiment with basic income – but it will not wait for the results before launching its own trial as part of a new poverty-reduction plan.
This spring, Ontario began a pilot project with 4,000 randomly chosen residents in three cities to test the merits of a publicly funded basic-income guarantee for the poor.
The goal is to reduce poverty by ensuring that individuals and families have enough money to live on, with the expectation that the public will benefit because health outcomes will improve.
However, a basic income does not require a means test, and some critics worry such programs reduce incentives to work.
On Monday, B.C. Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction Shane Simpson announced a round of consultations to help shape a poverty-reduction plan for the province – as required under the agreement his party, the NDP, reached with the Green Party caucus to support the minority government. The deal between the two parties calls for a provincewide strategy that includes affordable housing, income security and support for mental health and addictions. Legislated targets will be produced in 2018.
The NDP also agreed to design and implement a basic-income pilot to determine if it is an effective way to reduce poverty.
"The pilot should be funded in the first provincial budget tabled by the BC NDP government," the agreement states.
Funds for the pilot were not included in the September budget introduced by Finance Minister Carole James, but Green MLA Sonia Furstenau said the delay is acceptable.
"We've been in ongoing discussions around this – it's a very important one to do well rather than do quickly," she said in an interview.
Ms. Furstenau added that she expects to see the B.C. pilot launched early next year to tackle not only entrenched poverty but changes in the job market created by technological advances.
"For us, it's really important that it is about addressing the challenges of the emerging economy. We have increasingly precarious work. It's important to look forward," she said.
B.C. will also look at the basic-income trials being conducted in Glasgow, Scotland, and Oakland, Calif.
Manitoba conducted an early experiment in basic income in the 1970s, but the urgency today comes from concerns about rapid changes in the economy, as new technologies replace traditional jobs and lead to fears that the income gap between the rich and poor will continue to widen.
When he was sitting on the opposition benches in the Legislature, Mr. Simpson introduced a private member's bill in 2011 calling for a provincial poverty-reduction plan. Now, he has assembled an advisory forum of 27 policy experts to guide the province on legislated targets and timelines for the task.
"The end result of this, we hope, will be a complete poverty-reduction strategy – next year, for sure," he said.
The forum's co-chair, Dawn Hemingway, is chair of the University of Northern British Columbia's School of Social Work. She told reporters she believes there is the political will now to reduce poverty rates.
"I firmly believe it's a basic human right for everyone to have a good quality of life," she said. "This effort is long overdue, and I'm confident we have the collective will to make sure this happens."
Mr. Simpson said B.C. has the highest rate of poverty in the country – despite having the top-performing economy.
The government says there are almost 700,000 people living below the poverty line, including 120,000 children, according to the Market Basket Measure.
By that measure, the basic standard of living in B.C. requires at least $20,000 a year for a single person or $40,000 for a family of four.
Geranda Notten, of the University of Ottawa's Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, has studied the poverty-reduction plans of Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba and Newfoundland and Labrador. Although most jurisdictions in Canada now have a plan, she says it's not unusual for those plans to lose momentum, adding that she will be watching to see if B.C. reports poverty data regularly.
"Having legislation in place that requires current and future governments to engage in the process and to regularly report progress seems helpful," she said.
Peter Dinsdale, president and CEO of the YMCA Canada, said there is no standout poverty-reduction plan for B.C. to follow.
"We see a lot of provinces engaged in similar strategies, but I don't think there is a silver bullet," he said in an interview.
"The menu is there. British Columbia will have to decide what its emphasis is going to be."