To Prepare For The Future, Ontario Needs A Basic Income Program


 “Frequent flyers” — that’s what they call the homeless or poor coming through the emergency room with an ailment and an empty stomach. The visit costs Ontarians $1007.50, one thousand to register the patient and pay for doctor’s fees; the other seven dollars and fifty cents for a sandwich and a box of juice.

My partner Rebecca and I talk a lot about quick-fixes — band-aid solutions — versus identifying problems and coming up with real solutions. Between raising three kids together and her ten years in the ER, she’s seen her fair share of real-life examples: teach our kids to problem solve and we’ll spend less time solving their problems. Encourage people to live healthy lives with diet and exercise and we’ll spend less time in hospitals and waiting rooms.

The same can be said for our social safety net. Something Canadians seem very proud of; ensuring our elderly don’t live in poverty, and making sure our children have the basic necessities of life. And yet, the system is full of band-aids, of bureaucracy and burden on those who need it. There are gaps where our most vulnerable fall through the cracks. And in a province that would be in the G20 if it were a country, during one of the most prosperous times in our history, it should be inexcusable that so many of us continue to struggle, to live in systemic poverty, adding band-aid on top of band-aid with no real treatment.

This is where the Universal Basic Income (UBI) comes in. A guaranteed minimum income for every adult 18–65 in Ontario. What about children and seniors you ask? We actually already have a basic income for them: Guaranteed Income Supplement for seniors, run through the Old Age Security program. This made-in-Ontario solution addressed the issue that over 1 in 3 seniors lived in poverty during the 1970s. The then-PC government and Ontarians agreed it was unacceptable for our seniors to live in poverty, to beg to live, to buy dog food for protein. More recently, the Canada Child Benefit has helped pull children out of poverty, assisting over 300,000 kids since the program started just four years ago.

Fighting poverty isn’t a partisan issue, at least it shouldn’t be. And it’s not an idea owned by progressives either. Hugh Segal, the former senator and chief of staff to Progressive Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney and premier Bill Davis, has fought for a universal basic income in Canada for over 40 years. It’s also an idea that has advocates on both sides of the political aisle in the United States. For example, Ronald Reagan’s economic advisor, Nobel laureate Milton Friedman championed a guaranteed income as a way to reduce bureaucracy, enable work, and support the free market.

There have been nearly 500 studies on basic income, including pilots in Ontario and around the world. And while Premier Ford broke another promise by cancelling Ontario’s basic income pilot, we already know it works, both for people, and for the economy.

Ontario’s Universal Basic Income would add over $10 billion to Ontario’s economy, create up to 80,000 jobs, and save the Ontario government hundreds of millions of dollars in administration costs and red tape. UBI grows the economy and unlocks opportunity for those stuck in the poverty cycle. Studies show with a basic income, people start businesses, go back to school to add to their skills and education more frequently. Because of UBI, they can sign a lease, know where their next meal is coming from, and take a chance to make their lives better.

Ontario’s economy is also changing. It’s no longer an expectation that Ontarians will have one job, or even a single career, that lasts for the span of their working lives. Work is more precarious, uncertain and less permanent than ever before. 1 in 3 jobs are at risk of disappearing due to automation, and that transition as already started. The nature of the innovations we can expect in the coming decades, in AI and automation, include great economic potential, but will also increase our concerns about the precarity of work.

I have spoken with young Ontarians who know their careers will not look like those of their parents or grandparents. They are concerned that the tools in place to help them succeed are based on outdated ideas of what work looks like. They worry that tools will be insufficient in standing up to 21st century challenges.

For all these reasons, if I am elected leader of the Ontario Liberal Party, I will propose that our party implement a universal basic income across Ontario by the end of our first mandate, following the model of the Ontario pilot project.

This basic income would replace programs more difficult and expensive to administer, like Ontario Works and ODSP, while retaining additional benefits and supports for people with disabilities. This brings dignity to our system, so people don’t need to justify the need for food, clothing, or shelter every two weeks.

The cost of poverty leads to increased costs everywhere else. A basic income creates a healthier, safer, and better educated society, that save the system in enormous ways that are difficult to measure. But when people living under the poverty line account for 75% of prisoners, which in turn costs taxpayers a minimum of $60,000 a year; the Manitoba pilot saw a decrease of 8.5% in hospital visits from those on basic income, there are very real savings and efficiencies to be found.

While much of the program will be paid for by eliminating the red tape that is part of our current, fragmented system, there will be some additional costs. To cover these costs, and fund this program critical to growing our economy for the future, we will modernize Ontario’s tax system, moving us out of models designed for a world without robots.

The benefits of a universal basic income are well established. It provides a safety net for workers who lost their jobs that is less expensive to administer and easier to access than our current system.

This is an economic program that grows the economy, provides people more opportunities, and is also better, more efficient way of delivering social assistance programs than our hodgepodge system of poverty band-aids. Ontario is one of the wealthiest jurisdictions in the world. We have a chance to do this and eliminate poverty in the next 10 years — let’s take it.