Basic income advocates boarding a bus to protest at Queen's Park

A group of about 30 people is planning to board a bus to Queen's Park Wednesday morning to protest the province's decision to cancel the basic income pilot project.

Government's decision is 'harmful' and isn't based on evidence, says protest organizer

Jessie Golem was part of Ontario's basic income pilot project. She's planning to board a bus Wednesday and participate in a protest at Queen's Park calling for the program to be saved. ( Danielle Da Silva)

Jessie Golem is boarding a bus to Queen's Park tomorrow morning with plans to make sure Premier Doug Ford knows her name by the end of the day.

The freelance photographer is part of the province's recently-cancelled basic income pilot project. Before she became part of the program, she was working four jobs and rarely found time to eat.

News the government intends to end the program left her "furious and devastated," she said.

So she'll be joining a group of advocates who plan to pack a school bus and head to Queen's Park Wednesday to make sure their voice is heard.

We're not lazy. We're trying to build lives and build up this society we live in.- Jessie Golem, basic income program participant

"I want Doug Ford and (Minister of Community Services) Lisa MacLeod to know my name, and I want them to know the names of my friends who are affected by cancelling this program," she said. "They are causing unnecessary suffering without any sort of recourse."

Tom Cooper from the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction is helping organize the protest. He said about 30 people are expected to board the bus that will leave from Hamilton at 8 a.m.

The group plans to sit in during Question Period and to speak with several politicians.

"The government's decision to cancel the basic income pilot is harmful and not based on evidence," he said.

More than 4,000 people from Thunder Bay, Lindsay, Hamilton, Brantford and Brant County received monthly basic income through payments the program, while another 2,000 or so received compensation for filling out research surveys. 

After announcing the government's intention to end the program in late July, MacLeod told reporters the project was expensive and "clearly not the answer for Ontario families."

Lisa Macleod, Ontario's Children, Community and Social Services Minister makes an announcement on welfare rates at the Ontario Legislature in Toronto on Tuesday July 31, 2018. Macleod stated that they will increase 1.5% instead of the 3% promises in the Liberals' pre-election budget. The Tories are also winding down the basic-income pilot project. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

That's not what Cooper had been hearing. He said he's been told "amazing stories" by people in Hamilton about how the program had changed their lives. Now that progress is in jeopardy.

"People were told they'd be in the program for three years and made plans to go back to school or stabilize their housing situation and now they don't know what they'll do," he said.

Buck a beer tough to swallow

The government's announcement about  the return of buck a beer isn't helping, he added.

"For the Ford government to make an announcement about $1 beer so soon after cancelling the program is deeply disappointing and really a choice the government needs to look at a again."

Ontario Premier Doug Ford is pictured at a brewery, beside a placard that reads "Buck-A-Beer."
Ontario Premier Doug Ford arrives for the for the buck-a-beer plan announcement at Barley Days brewery in Picton, Ont., on Tuesday Aug. 7, 2018. (Lars Hagberg/Canadian Press)

Cooper said the group has a few meetings lined up with a few NDP MPPs and has been trying to organize a sit down with MacLeod, but so far they haven't heard back.

Petition tops 16K signatures

Advocates have also been stunned by support for an online petition to save the program that's already gathered more than 16,000 signatures.

Golem's hope for Wednesday is that the government will hear her concerns, or, at the very least, her fellow Ontarians.

"Basic income gave me focus. It bought me time. It gave me relief," she said.

"We're not leeching off the system. We're not lazy. We're trying to build lives and build up this society we live in."

with files from Samantha Craggs