The unexpected decision by Ontario Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod to cancel a year-old pilot project that gives low-income people a guaranteed basic income can be described in many terms.
Deceitful, because the Progressive Conservatives promised during the election campaign that their party, under Leader Doug Ford, would continue the project.
Callous, because the 4,000 participants were told it would run for two more years and built their lives around that expectation. These vulnerable people have been played for suckers by Ms. MacLeod and her boss.
Anti-scientific, because this was a valuable research project. It included 2,000 low-income Ontarians who agreed to not receive the basic income supplement but still report on their lives, thereby serving as a control group.
Wasteful, because the project was to cost about $50-million a year, which means Ms. MacLeod has thrown the first year’s instalment, along with any research it might have produced, into the garbage.
Vindictive, because that seems to be the operating principle of this government to date. Ms. MacLeod has given no justification for her decision, other than to say she is undertaking a 100-day review of Ontario’s social-assistance system.
But that review feels rigged. It includes an investigation into the minister’s unproven claim that there have been “hundreds of millions of dollars” in fraudulent welfare payments. And Ms. MacLeod has already said that all that is required to “restore dignity” in people who need social assistance is to find them a job. In fact, 70 per cent of the people in the pilot project have jobs, according to the government. And yet they still don’t earn enough to feed their families, pay their rent or complete their education.
Ms. MacLeod should let the pilot project continue for at least one more year, out of fairness to the participants and in order to reap the benefits of the research. Is she willing to open her mind to the inconvenient possibility that the simple fact of having a job doesn’t always pull a person out of poverty? That’s the big question.