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PC's plan to scrap Ontario basic income pilot project called 'shameful' by NDP leader

Planned 3% increase to welfare and disability support to be cut in half

July 31, 2018

Ontario Children, Community and Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod announced Tuesday that the province will overhaul its welfare system. (Patrick Morrell/CBC)
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The Ontario basic income pilot project is coming to an end, says Children, Community and Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod.

MacLeod said Tuesday that the project was expensive, and "clearly not the answer for Ontario families."

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She said the ministry would have "more details at a later date" about how the government would end the project.

Close to 4,000 people were enrolled in the basic income pilot program in Thunder Bay, Lindsay, Hamilton, Brantford and Brant County.

The pilot project started in April 2017. It was originally set to last three years, and explore the effectiveness of providing a basic income to those living on low incomes — whether they were working or not.

Under the project, a single person could have received up to about $17,000 a year, minus half of any income he or she earned. A couple could have received up to $24,000 per year. People with disabilities could have received an additional $6,000.

And this callous, mean-spirited premier sees this as a priority? Making poverty worse? Making life worse for families? Absolutely disgraceful. Shameful. - Andrea Horwath, Ontario NDP leader

During the announcement, MacLeod was asked what data the province was citing when it said the program wasn't working. MacLeod didn't offer any examples, and instead just said it was "not sustainable."

She said her government will end the program "ethically" for anyone who is currently enrolled. She did not say how long participants could expect their payments to continue.

The announcement prompted shock and anger among many who rely on the the project and felt they'd been lied to.

Dave Cherkewski is one of about 1,000 Hamiltonians who received guaranteed income.

"I'm in shock," he said, reacting to news of the cancellation. "I had a three-year plan and now it's gone."

Provincial NDP Leader Andrea Horwath told CBC News that the government's decision is "highly irresponsible."

She said too many people in Ontario are already struggling to find affordable housing and feed their families. 

"And this callous, mean-spirited premier sees this as a priority? Making poverty worse? Making life worse for families? Absolutely disgraceful. Shameful," she said. 

"It is a waste. It's a crying shame, and I'm just so distraught — and I know the people who are going to be affected by this are beside themselves."

Guelph MPP Mike Schreiner, who is the Green Party leader, similarly slammed the cuts in a statement.

"Ontario's social assistance programs are not working," he said. "The most efficient and effective way to reduce poverty and government bureaucracy is to experiment with new solutions such as the basic Income guarantee pilot program."

Prior to the election, the PCs had indicated they would see the program through to its conclusion.

"We look forward to seeing the results," spokesperson Melissa Lantsman said in an email to CBC News back in May.

Disability support to rise 1.5%, instead of 3%

MacLeod also announced Tuesday that the province's PC government will increase rates for people on Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program by 1.5 per cent — not the three per cent increase that was promised in the previous Liberal government's latest budget.

"We need to do more than just help people remain mired in poverty," MacLeod said while making the announcement at Queen's Park.

"We're going to hit the pause button on the previous government's patchwork system and replace it with a system that helps stabilize people in need and support them to succeed."

MacLeod said the province has set a 100-day deadline to develop and announce a "sustainable" social assistance program.

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