The time is ripe to start moving away from current welfare models and towards a basic income for Canadians, says former Conservative Senator Hugh Segal.

Former P.E.I. premier Robert Ghiz said in 2014 he supported trying a basic income on P.E.I., and the current government has told CBC News it still supports the idea.

Hugh Segal

There is no evidence that a basic income is a disincentive to work, says Hugh Segal. (CBC)

Segal has written a plan for a basic income pilot project for Ontario, which he expects will go ahead next year. The plan proposes that those aged 18 to 65, who are living under the low-income poverty line in Ontario, earn a basic income of at least $1,320 a month. People with disabilities would receive $500 more.

Segal said in the pilot a random selection of welfare and disability payment recipients would be selected, along with some whole communities. In that way the impact on individuals and whole communities could be tracked.

Federal support required

Segal thinks other provinces, including P.E.I., should try pilot projects of their own.

While P.E.I. supports the concept, it says any pilot project would require "active and committed federal participation" and Segal made the same point in the report he wrote for the Ontario government.

Statement from P.E.I. Department of Family and Human Services
"The Province supports the concept of the Basic Income Guarantee.  We have been consistent in our response that any pilot project in this area would require active and committed federal participation. We are always open to partnerships with the federal government to improve the financial well being of the residents in our province."

"I made the case that I thought the federal government should take this opportunity to provide funding for provinces who want to do their own pilots," he said.

"The federal government has a rare opportunity here, for what by federal standards is not a lot of money, to help the provinces do their own pilots in a way that might get a lot of evidence coming in from various provinces."

The pilot project in Ontario is expected to cost $15 million to $25 million a year.

Segal said it would be good for different provinces to try a basic income, because the way a pilot might work on PE.I. or in Ontario might be different from the way it might work in other provinces.

Idea tried 40 years ago

This is not the first time a basic income pilot project has been tried in Canada. A three-year project ran in Dauphin, Man., in the 1970s.

Segal said the project had a positive impact on people's lives on a number of different fronts, and in some surprising ways.

  • Improved health.
  • Young people stayed in school longer.
  • Fewer police arrests.
  • Fewer traffic accidents.
  • Fewer psychiatric admissions.

Segal noted there was no evidence that people stayed out of the workforce because they were receiving a basic income.

He noted that most current welfare systems do contain disincentives to work, and that 70 per cent of Canadians living below the poverty line already have jobs.

He added in the last 25 years Canada has not seen a major reduction in the percentage of the population living in poverty.

With files from Island Morning