Shock and anger in Hamilton after province says it'll cancel the basic income project

Those involved in Hamilton's basic income project say they feel angry and lied to now that the provincial PC government has prematurely scrapped the program.

'I had a three-year plan and now it's gone,' says one recipient

"I had a three-year plan and now it's gone," says Dave Cherkewski, a community activist who's part of the basic income pilot project. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Those involved in Hamilton's basic income project say they feel angry and lied to now that the provincial PC government has prematurely scrapped the program.

Recipients and anti-poverty activists say they're shocked by Tuesday's announcement from Lisa MacLeod, Minister of Children, Community and Social Services. MacLeod says she's cancelling the three-year pilot a year into it.

About 1,000 Hamiltonians are receiving guaranteed income through the study. That includes Dave Cherkewski. "I'm in shock," he said. "I had a three-year plan and now it's gone."

The party and Ford said during the campaign that they were interested in seeing the results of the study, he said. "Now they're killing it two years early."  

Tom Cooper, director of the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction, called the cancellation "a shameful act."

"I am angry," he said. "I am angry on behalf of the 1,000 Hamiltonians who were promised they could participate in this pilot project. They were sold a bill of goods by the Ford government in the election. They were lied to."

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MacLeod told reporters the project is expensive, and "clearly not the answer for Ontario families." She also said she'd have "more details at a later date" about how the government would end the project.

My gut just aches.- Deirdre Pike, who worked on the basic income pilot project in Hamilton

About 4,000 people were involved across the communities of Thunder Bay, Lindsay, Hamilton, Brantford and Brant County. 

Of those, 2,000 got a basic income every month. The other half didn't get the monthly money, but would be compensated for filling out surveys for research purposes.

'Very human stories'

Under the program, recipients received up to $16,989 per year for a single person, less 50 per cent of any earned income, and $24,027 for a couple. People with disabilities received an additional $6,000.

The pilot measured factors such as mental health, housing stability and job training. A team of researchers, led by St. Michael's Hospital and McMaster University, is studying the results.

Cooper said the program has been working.

"The stories we've been getting back are people who are eating healthier. They're able to participate in the community again. People are going back to school. They're buying winter clothes they couldn't afford and staying warm. These are very human stories, and they've have been shut down by an uncaring and ill conceived political decision."

Deirdre Pike was part of the team that advised the government on basic income. The government will have less than a year of data, which isn't enough.

"My gut just aches," she said.

Andrea Horwath, NDP MPP for Hamilton Centre and Official Opposition leader, called the move "absolutely brutal."

Party said it looked forward to results

"I'm so distraught," she said, "and I know the people who are being affected by this are going to be beside themselves."

"We're going to fight (the changes) as hard as we can, but it's a travesty."

During the campaign, the party didn't answer direct questions from CBC News about whether it would continue the project.

"The basic income program is currently in a pilot stage," said then-spokesperson Melissa Lantsman, "and we look forward to seeing the results."

MacLeod also announced Tuesday that the province 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 in rates 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.


Samantha Craggs is journalist based in Windsor, Ont. She is executive producer of CBC Windsor and previously worked as a reporter and producer in Hamilton, specializing in politics and city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca