Basic income pilot not coming to B.C. until at least 2020, despite Green-NDP pledge

People hoping the B.C. government will quickly fulfil a pledge to launch a pilot program for guaranteed income will be waiting awhile.

Government studying Ontario's project, but that province's special adviser says B.C. should 'get on with it'

B.C. Green Party leader Andrew Weaver says a guaranteed income for British Columbians would help combat growing unaffordability throughout the province. (Karin Larsen/CBC)

People hoping the B.C. government will quickly fulfil a pledge to launch a pilot program for guaranteed income will be waiting awhile.

Shane Simpson, the minister of social development and poverty reduction, said the province has allocated $4 million over the next two years to study the issue but won't be implementing a direct program over that time.

"I'm hoping that we'll be able to announce something very shortly that will give us an opportunity to look at how the basic income would look in B.C., and to look at how it might affect income support programs in B.C. going forward," he said.

"It's not a pilot, in the sense of taking people and putting them on a basic income. It's analytics."

The idea of a basic income — guaranteeing all low-income citizens a certain amount of income, without any strings attached — has gained traction in recent years, and the B.C. Green Party advocated for it in the last election. 

Part of the Confidence and Supply Agreement between the NDP and the B.C. Green Party calls for "a basic income pilot to test whether it is an effective way to reduce poverty, improve health, housing and employment," with money for the pilot funded in the first budget. 

But funding in last month's budget only sets aside $4 million for a "basic income expert committee," and Premier John Horgan said that timeline was appropriate. 

"You have to look at it before you do it. Governments assess the situation they find themselves in all the time, and that's what we're doing as well. We're taking stock of what our capacity is fiscally, what the demand is within the community, and then you implement programs."

Greens 'cautiously optimistic'

Despite 2020 looking like the earliest for funding to come for a pilot on basic income, Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver said his party supports the path government is taking on the issue.

"Cautiously optimistic is where I stand on this. I have had several meetings with Minister Simpson and his staff, and there's a general level of excitement about his project, so I'm still optimistic," he said. 

Weaver said he was encouraged by steps the government is already taking, including funding for the study and providing free tuition to young adults leaving foster care. 

"In a sense, that is a form of pilot project, if not as the one articulated in the [Green-NDP] agreement. We felt that was very positive, because you can get a lot of information from that particular cohort [adults leaving foster care]," he said.

Studying the project in Ontario

Both Weaver and Simpson said they were looking forward to receiving information from the Ontario government, which is currently in the middle of its basic income pilot.

There, 4,000 people are taking part in the three-year, $150 million pilot, which is providing $17,000 a year to individuals who are either unemployed or make less than $34,000 annually.

"That's quite a low income. We want to see if you give people that income, if they raise themselves out of poverty, or work or do other things that will supplement their income," said Kwame McKenzie, Ontario's special advisor for the project.

McKenzie said support is clawed back for income people make during the pilot. For every dollar a person makes, 50 cents will be removed from their minimum income

"It's simpler and less bureaucracy. We want to see if people like it more, rather than getting income support or disability payments," he said. 

But he also said B.C. shouldn't wait for Ontario to finish its pilot before launching its own.

"I would suggest that there is a need to actually test these things in B.C., because B.C. is different than Ontario, and the labour market is different, and you'd need to see if it works locally," he said. 

"I'd say get on with it, rather than wait, because you could be waiting a number of years before you do anything."

With files from All Points West

About the Author

Justin McElroy

@j_mcelroy

Justin is a reporter for CBC Vancouver, covering political stories throughout British Columbia.

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