Basic Guaranteed Income project holds Kitchener consultation Friday night

The City of Kitchener is one of 14 Ontario cities where the provincial government is holding meetings to consider launching an experimental Basic Guaranteed Income pilot project.

Region won't request pilot until criteria outlined

The City of Kitchener is the latest stop in a 14 city provincial tour to discuss whether or not the province should launch a pilot project for Basic Guaranteed Income (BGI).

The plan would guarantee people a monthly payment to supplement their income in order to reach a pre-determined basic earning level. A number of countries are either considering or have implemented similar pilot projects.

The Friday night consultation at the rotunda of Kitchener City Hall will ask the community:

  • Who should be eligible?
  • Which communities should be included in the study?
  • Where should the pilot take place?
  • What should the basic income level be?
  • How best to evaluate it?

Would Waterloo Region be eligible?

A final report on whether or not a pilot project would take place in Ontario, how it would work and the cost, won't be issued until April. It also remains to be seen whether Waterloo Region would be eligible for the pilot project.

Kitchener-Centre MPP Daiene Vernile, who lobbied to have a consultation stop in Kitchener, says some people outside the community don't think so.

"There is a view outside our community: it is affluent and perhaps we don't have as great need as ... other parts of the province," said Vernile.

"However if you talk to people in social services, there are people who fall through the cracks and can benefit from that kind of assistance."

Through the cracks

A Basic Guaranteed Income pilot project could help some of the 8,600 people currently on Ontario Works (OW) and the almost 12,000 being supported by the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) in Waterloo Region.

But Waterloo Region has not yet put forward a request to be part of the pilot, as they have not heard the province's full criteria. 

Douglas Bartholomew-Saunders, the region's Commissioner for Community Services, says they don't know how other social benefits would be affected by Basic Guaranteed Income.

"In addition to the Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program there are other social benefit programs that provide for people who live on low income," said Bartholomew-Saunders.

"Housing subsidies, child care subsidies, discretionary benefits for services otherwise uncovered: The benefit of the recipient will be determined based on what programs are eliminated and what programs are retained."

Bartholomew-Saunders believes benefits retained under a Basic Guaranteed Income plan could be seen as a deductible financial benefit to those who receive a BGI cheque.

'Needs to be a living income'

Oscar Cole-Arnall, a member of the local anti-poverty group Alliance Against Poverty (AAP) – representing people who have middle income and are on social assistance – worries that the basic income plan might mask overall cuts to benefits and might not provide people with enough money to live a productive life.

"My main concern is that this not be mingled with an austerity program," said Cole-Arnall. "If it's a basic income it's got to be a basic income, not a welfare income. The AAP [supports] a basic income but it needs to be a living income."

Friday night's consultation runs from 6:30 p.m to 9:00 p.m.

Listen: CBC Radio's Ontario Today with Rita Chelli discusses guaranteed basic income with former senator Hugh Segal.