Cindy Crego says having a basic income helped her pay for medications that aren’t covered and gave her the freedom to drive her car more often. Rose Borg-Brewster says it allowed her to visit her children and eat better food.
Others in Lindsay, a test site for the Ontario basic income pilot project, say it meant they could afford cable TV, or buy a few plants for their garden.
They had hope, they had a better life, and now they are unsure what to do.
They were among more than 100 people who turned up at a rally at Lindsay Memorial Park on Tuesday to protest the Ford government’s cancellation of the program.
Some of the protesters were on scooters; some were using oxygen tanks. Many waved signs. They all shouted “Bring back basic income” and jeered the “buck-a-beer” announcement made earlier in the day by the Conservatives to bring back lower legal beer prices.
On July 30, the Ford government announced it was scrapping the previous Liberal government’s basic income pilot program midway through its three-year trial. Launched in 2016, the program ran in three test communities in Ontario, including Lindsay, where about 2,000 people signed up.
The pilot provided single participants $ 17,000 annually and couples $ 24,000 — roughly double the standard welfare rates — to see if the money improved their chances of finding better jobs, housing, health and nutrition. The Liberals budgeted $ 50 million per year for the program.
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A short history of the poverty-busting power of basic income
Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod would not reveal a date for the program’s end, but promised an unspecified “lengthy and compassionate” transition period. To date, the ministry has confirmed that payments will continue into September.
Borg-Brewster told Kawartha Lakes This Week she was on the Ontario Disability Support Program before she signed on to the basic income program. At one time she made $ 65,000 per year working three jobs to raise her family before she became ill in 2013 and could no longer work. “Now, I get about $ 11,000. What does that tell you?”
Brad Lynden says the government “did it ass backwards.” He says the minimum wage hike implemented last January meant businesses cut hours and staff, “leaving us worse off.”
Lynden said the government would be “better to raise minimum wage so people are making about $ 35,000 or so a year. Then they pay more taxes, which can be used to increase (social assistance) programs. That would make it better for everyone all around.”
Several anti-poverty activists spoke at the rally about how a basic income guarantee benefits society, saying it translates to people eating better (many recipients said they no longer use food banks as they can afford to shop at grocery stores) and a better sense of well-being.
Cheers went up for Kawartha Food Coalition co-chair Mike Perry, who said basic income “is about every single one of us. . . . We need a social safety net if we fall on hard times.
“There is no such thing as a perfect system,” Perry added. Getting about $ 1,000 per month on ODSP “is not living, it’s existing.
“This is non-partisan; all three parties committed to seeing this through,” he continued. “We hear a lot about the cost — but (poverty) is costing us now.”
Physician Jill Caines said poverty is “a critical issue” that has an impact on both physical and mental health. The people coming to her office “aren’t lying on a couch drinking beer and watching Netflix,” she added.
Kawartha Lakes Mayor Andy Letham also spoke, saying, “I’m not speaking in my capacity as mayor when I say this, but it was a really s—y thing the government has done. People made plans. . . . Our provincial government should be better than that.”
He said he would be speaking to Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock MPP Laurie Scott and making her aware of how people feel. He’ll also be attending a conference in Ottawa next week where he “might get the chance to speak with Premier Ford.”
All of the speakers encouraged the crowd to contact their local councillors, the mayor and MPP to voice their objections, with the ultimate goal of having the program reinstated “until all of the data is collected.”
In an interview last week, advocate Lynda DaSilva paused when asked if she ever gave any thought as to what might happen once the three-year basic income pilot program ended.
“I’m not sure any of us looked that far ahead,” she said. “We were just so excited to be able to live — to get back on track.”