Pearson: Years of compromise scuttled by chopping basic income pilot

In a move likely designed to rattle a few cages this summer, the provincial government’s decision to chop the basic income pilot project came across as a cold reversal of a campaign promise that said the opposite.

The basic income guarantee has been around as a concept for decades, but after years of research and a growing civil society movement, it became reality in Ontario in the form of test projects in three regions in the province - writes

The basic income guarantee is anything but simple, but as issues like unemployment and poverty, mental illness and disabilities have grown more pronounced in recent years, the concept of creating an income floor to help those families overcome problems governments or corporations seemed unable to solve grew in support. The former Ontario Liberal government implemented the pilot project and Doug Ford’s campaign promise to let it play itself out in the test phase helped many to breathe easier.

But it wasn’t to be. Weeks after taking office, the Progressive Conservative government announced its cancellation, throwing everything into a tizzy. While some viewed it as a brutal act and others maintained it was a courageous move, very few realized what was actually lost.

This was a program that pulled people together across ideological divides, forming a working model that was the epitome of the compromise, respect, understanding and compassion that polls repeatedly suggest Canadians want from their governments.

In killing the pilot project, the Ford government forcefully undermined what for decades had largely been a conservative design. Conservative economic guru Milton Friedman advocated for just such a program back in 1962.

From the other end of the spectrum, Martin Luther King Jr. found common ground with Friedman in 1967, declaring, “The solution to poverty is to abolish it directly by a now widely discussed measure: the guaranteed income.”

Following on that, Richard Nixon and his opponent George McGovern both supported the measure in their U.S. presidential debates.

Canada has had its own well-known champions, including many conservative supporters. The greatest of these is likely Hugh Segal, Brian Mulroney’s former chief of staff and a well-respected senator.

Segal used his skills of diplomacy to build support across ideological lines. He drew others into that orbit, including Liberal stalwarts such as Senator Art Eggleton, who eventually partnered with Segal to stickhandle the initiative through the political process. The NDP were natural allies, and when Green Party Leader Elizabeth May and her Ontario counterparts supported BIG, it manifested a masterpiece of political diplomacy, impressive compromise and shared common ground.

When Premier Doug Ford cut the measure this month, it wasn’t just a cruel jab at Kathleen Wynne’s past government. It was an action that slew one of the great political achievements of the past two decades— one that crossed all party lines and held out hope as an example of a new kind of democracy.

But the greatest victims are the 4,000 citizens in low income and pressing circumstances who enrolled in the pilot. It was a trial government program, so naturally they believed it would finish its brief cycle, trusting they would get the opportunity to make a stable life for themselves and their kids. That trust is now shattered and only adds to the deep disillusionment that many of those families and their supporters held following decades of effort.

“Trust but verify,” conservative godfather Ronald Reagan was fond of repeating when he was U.S. president. And he was right.

The basic income guarantee was built on that formula: Trust that government, civil society and those families in the program would come together in good will, have their efforts researched at all levels, and then deliver to the public the results of its effectiveness. With the “verify” portion gone, trust itself will decay even further.

There are many voices out there both demonizing and praising the possibilities of the basic income guarantee. But there was another concept on trial during this period, and it was politics itself.

A largely Conservative-led effort over the decades that crossed party lines and ended up as a pilot project is the stuff democratic dreams are made of and something rarely seen in the modern era. This wasn’t just about assisting people to rise out of poverty; it was a test of politics and democracy.In harshly crushing the hope and sound work of the left, centre and right by the project’s cancellation, the Ford government has dashed the legitimacy of effective compromise.

A lot of social justice dreams died last week. And so did a large number of political ones.

Glen Pearson is co-director of the London Food Bank and a former Liberal MP for the riding of London North Centre.

Read more news of London on our site.
basicincomepilot compromise
If you notice an error, highlight the text you want and press Ctrl + Enter to report it to the editor
3 views in june
I recommend
No recommendations yet


Post your comment to communicate and discuss this article.

An EE customer has said she was stalked by an ex-partner who worked at the firm, after he accessed her personal data without permission. Francesca Bonafede's number was switched to a new handset and her address and bank details were accessed. She said the company failed to take the data breach seriously and she had to involve police. EE "sincerely apologised" to Ms Bonafede, and said the employee no longer worked for the company. 'They didn't seem concerne...
West Ham say they have handed over all of their evidence to the police after completing a "thorough and immediate" investigation into racist abuse shouted at Liverpool's Mohamed Salah. The incident happened during Monday's 1-1 draw at London Stadium. Egypt striker Salah, 26, was filmed on a mobile phone from a section of home supporters as he was taking a corner. "The club is unequivocal in its stance - such abuse will not be tolerated," West Ham said in a...
A body seen in the wreckage of the plane carrying Cardiff City footballer Emiliano Sala and pilot David Ibbotson has been recovered, investigators said. Remotely operated Vehicles (ROVs) were used in ‘challenging conditions’ to pull the body out of the water ‘in as dignified a way as possible’ the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) said on Wednesday night. The body is being taken to Portland to be passed over to the Dorset coroner for examination, t...
The US president, who has repeatedly criticised the military alliance, would meet with heads of state in London, Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg announced on Wednesday. It would be Mr Trump's second visit to Britain since his election, having jetted in amid swathes of protest last July. I am pleased to announce that allies have agreed that the next meeting of Nato heads of state and government will take place in London in December 2019. The meeting...
Rolf Harris was jailed for five years and nine months in 2014 but released on licence in May 2017 Credit: PA Officials are investigating a report that disgraced entertainer Rolf Harris walked onto the grounds of a primary school and waved at pupils. The convicted sex offender went onto the premises of Oldfield Primary School near his home in Bray, Maidenhead, to talk to a sculptor working in the grounds, the Daily Mirror reported. Harris, who was jailed fo...
Two men have been arrested on suspicion of murder after a teenager was stabbed to death. Police and London Ambulance Service were called to Wolsey Court, off Westbridge Road in Battersea, at 7.52pm on Tuesday following reports of a stabbing. A 19-year-old man was found with stab injuries and died at the scene at 8.36pm despite paramedics battling to save his life. The stabbing took place less than half a mile from Prince George's primary school, Thomas's B...
The girl, who has been named Roman by nurses, was found at around 10pm on Thursday in the park in Roman Road in East Ham.  Police said Roman was wrapped in a white towel and placed in the shopping bag on the ground next to a bench in the small children's play park.  The baby was rushed to hospital where she was in a stable condition on Friday morning, the Metropolitan Police said.  Roman was discovered by grandmother-of-one Rima Zvaliauskiene, 50, just 100...
The operation to recover the doomed plane carrying Emiliano Sala off Guernsey could be hampered by days of poor weather as the man brought in by the footballer's family to find him said he could be in the wreckage. The English Channel is being battered by torrential ran, 40mph winds and 10ft waves with the poor conditions set to continue - and worsen - until the end of the week, MailOnline can reveal today. The families of the £15million striker and his pi...
Train passengers are being warned of major disruption after overhead electric wires were damaged near one of London’s busiest stations. Network Rail said services travelling to and from Liverpool Street could be cancelled or revised until 8am on Thursday. Wires between Liverpool Street and Bethnal Green, east London, were damaged, with the outage impacting Greater Anglia, London Overground, Stansted Express and Transport for London Rail services. Passenger...