Hamilton basic income advocates planning protest, considering suing the province

Hamilton advocates are plotting Queen's Park demonstrations and even a potential lawsuit now that the province is cancelling the basic income pilot project.

'That decision is enough to make me homeless,' says one Hamilton basic income recipient

Lisa Macleod, Ontario's minister of children, community and social services, announced Ontario is cancelling the basic income pilot project two years early. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

Hamilton advocates are plotting Queen's Park demonstrations and even a potential lawsuit now that the province is cancelling the basic income pilot project.

Tom Cooper, director of the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction, says he's looking at whether basic income advocates can launch a class action lawsuit.

He also plans to head to Queen's Park next week with some of Hamilton's 1,000 basic income recipients. They'll protest the Ford government's sudden cancellation of the promised three-year study.

People are desperate, Cooper said. "The Ford government has left people with few options."

"At this point, we are exploring legal options."

Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod announced Tuesday that the province is cancelling the study just one year into the three-year pilot program.

Under the plan, recipients from Hamilton, Thunder Bay, Lindsay, Brantford and Brant County receive a guaranteed monthly income. It amounts 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 earn an additional $6,000.

This is not a joke. This has huge, serious ramifications. People's lives are in jeopardy.- Eric Chiodi


About 2,000 people receive the monthly income, while the others get money for filling out surveys as part of a comparison group. Some participants are on social assistance, while others have precarious, low-paying jobs. It costs $50 million annually.

Researchers from St. Michael's Hospital and McMaster University study the data. The goal is to determine if a basic income is cheaper for taxpayers in the long run by reducing the demand on health and housing services. Cooper said it also "gave people the tools" to go to school or get back to work.

But MacLeod said the program is too expensive, and "clearly not the answer for Ontario families."

The Progressive Conservative government, she said, will announce "more details at a later date" about how it will end the project.

"We need to do more than just help people remain mired in poverty," MacLeod said. "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."

At risk of homelessness

Eric Chiodi, an east Mountain resident, says without the program, he'll soon be homeless.

Chiodi, 49, says he used to own three businesses. Then in 2013, a car crash left him with debilitating injuries. Since then, he's received ODSP.

He lives in his own home with his family. He often skips meals because there's not enough food.

Basic income lifted some of the weight. The pain is so bad it keeps him up at night, he said. With more money, he tried massage therapy. It helped.

Mostly, though, he needs to pay off $13,000 in back taxes or the city will seize his house. He arranged payments of $400 a month assuming he'd have the basic income money. Now he can't make the payments.

Going through a fire

"Imagine you're going through a fire and someone drops another fire bomb on you on top of that," he said of Macleod's announcement. "That decision is enough to make me homeless."

"I know politics is a game and I know it's all about winning votes, but this is not a joke. This has huge, serious ramifications. People's lives are in jeopardy."

Lindsay Boyd is also part of the program. She's on ODSP, and has a bowel disease and degeneration in her back.

"I have no pension plan, no RRSPs, no nothing," she said. "For the first time, I was actually able to put some money away."

If Cooper's group protests or launches a lawsuit, she said, she'll be right there. "Abso-freaking-lutely."


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