Basic income recipient hopes program continues after provincial election

Every morning, Dave Cherkewski wakes up and shuffles to the fridge in his Beasley apartment, where he's faced with a symbol of his newfound agency — fruit smoothies.

Dave Cherkewski said basic income has already made an immeasurable difference

"I'm hoping to have the best summer of my life," says Dave Cherkewski, who's part of the basic income pilot project. Doug Ford's opponents worry about what will happen to the program after June 7. The PC party says it's looking forward to seeing the results. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Every morning, Dave Cherkewski wakes up and shuffles to the fridge in his Beasley apartment, where he's faced with a symbol of his newfound agency — fruit smoothies.

Cherkewski is a fan of the Bolthouse Farms smoothies, but he never used to be able to afford them. Now he has a few flavours to choose from: Green Goodness, Berry Boost, Amazing Mango.

This is one of life's little comforts for Cherkewski. He's lived in poverty for about 10 years, ever since depression and anxiety yanked him from his career. Cherkewski is used to eating from the bargain bin. For him, he said, a smoothie "is a luxury."

Before he starts his day, "I have a little fruit smoothie buffet," he said. He can also afford to buy multivitamins, and fresh food — all things that help with his anxiety.

"There's this thing of choice, and it's like I'm overwhelmed by the choices."

The pilot project involves 4,000 people in Ontario. (Matt Prokopchuk/CBC)

Cherkewski is one of the roughly 1,000 Hamiltonians in the basic income pilot project, a three-year program involving 4,000 people in Ontario. And like many others, he wonders what will happen after the June 7 provincial election.

Under the program, 2,000 people get a guaranteed income every month. For Cherkewski, it's more than $700 than he usually gets through the Ontario Disability Support Program. The other half of the participants don't receive more money every month, but will be compensated for filling out surveys for research purposes.

The Liberal program is in Hamilton, Brant, Thunder Bay and Lindsay. The Liberals and NDP have pledged to keep it. As for whether the Ontario PC party would keep it, spokesperson Melissa Lantsman issued a statement via email.

'We look forward to seeing the results'

"The basic income program is currently in a pilot stage," she said, "and we look forward to seeing the results."

Cherkewski isn't too worried about the program vanishing. He signed a three-year contract, he said, and its cost is minimal compared to the province's budget.

Dave Cherkewski, a local anti-poverty advocate, says the program has improved his quality of life. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Deirdre Pike, the Hamilton Centre Liberal candidate, said she's heard from worried local program recipients.

"I can't trust that (Doug) Ford would even carry it on, let alone know what to do with the data," said Pike, who helped implement the project.

Under the program, recipients will receive up to $16,989 per year for a single person, less 50 per cent of any earned income, and $24,027 for a couple. The pilot measures factors such as mental health, housing stability and job training. A team of researchers, led by St. Michael's Hospital and McMaster University, will study the results.

'The best summer of my life'

The idea, Pike said, is that basic income saves the government in the long run. 

Sandy Shaw, NDP candidate for Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas, said her party would continue the program. 

"New Democrats have no reservations about adopting good ideas that make life fair and affordable for people," said Shaw.

Cherkewski said basic income has already made an immeasurable difference. And the smoothies are symbolic of it.

With more grocery money, he said, he's able to treat food as his medicine. He has more energy as he volunteers with the Council of Canadians, and with his church. He's even gotten engaged.

"I'm hoping," he said, "to have the best summer of my life."


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