Ontario Basic Income Pilot: Dignity for All

As the national association voice for the profession, the Canadian Association of Social Workers (CASW) typically withholds comment on provincial and territorial issues.

However every so often there is a decision made by a province or territory that demands a national response as it will have resounding implications for all people in Canada. The decision by the Government of Ontario to prematurely end the province’s Basic Income Pilot is one such decision.

Ontario’s Basic Income Pilot is North America’s first and largest basic income trial in more than 40 years and has wide support from the political spectrum in Canada, as well as the world’s attention for its potential to provide the evidence to eliminate income assistance systems that are often inefficient and stigmatizing

To get right to the point: the decision to cancel this pilot after 1 year of its intended 3 year duration -- after campaigning on the promise to see the study through -- is short-sighted, and exposes a deep, poisonous pessimism about the human condition.

The Ford Government says the pilot will be cancelled because in its view, a no strings attached basic income acts as a ‘disincentive to work.’ The great irony of this thinking is that the provinces receive, with no strings attached, the Canada Social Transfer each year to support their delivery of social services.

In 2018-19, the Ontario Government will receive a social transfer of close to $5.5 Billion from the Federal Government – if this type of unconditional financial support is not a disincentive for Premier Ford to do his job, why assume that it would be for Ontarians on a basic income of $17,000 a year?

In terms of the Ontario pilot so far, interviews with participants reveal families using their basic income as a floor to stand on while they build the foundation of a better life. They reported that the basic income helped them go back to school, start a small business, spend more time as parents or caregivers, buy warm winter clothes, help cover the costs of their commute to work, or fill the gap while they were seeking the right job. Social workers know that Canadians are quite capable of making the best choices for their future, and the abrupt end to the pilot program will make realizing these plans much more difficult, if not impossible. 

In fact, the evidence from similar international projects shows that a basic income increases community engagement and helps people get into the workforce -- and that an overwhelming majority of the dollars provided to basic income recipients are spent directly in the local economy, meaning a basic income acts as an economic stimulus package as well.

Because income is one of the most important social factors for health, addressing the cycle of poverty would also dramatically help with costs in health care and other sectors in the future. But beyond these missed fiscal opportunities, it is unjust –not to mention uncaring– to abruptly withdraw income from families promised three years of predictable income: families now struggling to stay afloat. The failure of the Ford government’s campaign promise to see the pilot through to completion demonstrates its lack of compassion and commitment to those Ontarians who took a chance and joined this bold experiment.

We wrote to Premier Ford urging him to reconsider shutting down this pilot that provided so much hope for an evidenced-based future: a future in which each of us is supported with a stable and predictable basic income; a future with the potential to provide dignity for all.


CASW President, Jan Christianson-Wood