BY: ALEX BROWN
Ontario recently announced plans to launch a basic income pilot project at some point this year, known by some as the free-money initiative. The radical concept is gaining popularity as experimentation continues in European countries like Germany, Finland, Netherlands and Switzerland, which have all opted for trials of basic income plans. The exact dollar figure to be provided to Canadians is yet to be announced, but should Ontario model the initiative after the European trials, one could expect to receive monthly stipends of about $1,000, no strings attached.
According to the Ontario Ministry of Finance, “The government will work with communities, researchers and other stakeholders in 2016 to determine how best to design and implement a Basic Income pilot.”
Hinging on the success of the pilot program, Finance Minister Charles Sousa has indicated that basic income could become permanent in Canada.
Ontario’s basic income plan has received endorsements by high-profile economists like Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Families, Children and Social Development. “Most importantly, I think it’s the principles behind the idea [of a guaranteed income] that matter. These principles are greater simplicity for the government, greater transparency on the part of families and greater equity for everyone,” said Duclos to The Globe and Mail. Past experiments and research has given Canadians a reason to be optimistic.
If Ontario copies the model of the European trials, an individual could receive about $1000 a month with no strings attached.
In the ’70s, Dauphin, Manitoba experimented with a basic income plan with successful results in eliminating poverty. However, the positive outcome of the venture was acknowledged then discreetly shuffled out of the economic discussion. Those concerned about the basic income plan speculate whether unconditional government cheques will discourage Canadians from working, a minor trend that persisted in Dauphin, but only because Canadians were using the money to further their education. However, Ontario’s new budget plan—officially presented to legislature in late February—goes one step further by introducing landmark initiatives like free university tuition for low-income students and significantly reduced rates for middle-income students.
“The pilot project will test a growing view at home and abroad that a basic income could build on the success of minimum wage policies and increases in child benefits by providing more consistent and predictable support in the context of today’s dynamic labour market,” says the Ontario Ministry of Finance on their website.
In the wake of the Liberal government’s promising economic improvements, Canadian citizens need to ensure the concept will not be ignored like in the past.
The combination of basic income and tuition reductions only stands to increase online searches for “how to move to Canada,” which spiked on Google last week in response to Trump’s momentum in the presidential primaries. Canada’s recent initiatives have certainly made the prospect attractive. Still, Canada must remain vigilant in the wake of the Liberal government’s promising agenda. Ontario’s latest experiment should remain under close watch, so that if the experiment reflects the success of Dauphin, the concept will not again be shuffled under the economic rug.