Ottawans give feedback on Ontario's guaranteed income pilot project

More than 100 Ottawa residents gave their feedback Tuesday night about Ontario's plans to try a different approach to alleviating poverty with guaranteed incomes.

'I think this is such an amazing opportunity to really do something that can lift people further ahead'

Ontario's minister of community and social services, Helena Jaczek, has been attending consultations across the province about testing a guaranteed income to alleviate poverty. (Kate Porter/CBC)

More than 100 Ottawa residents gave their feedback Tuesday night about Ontario's plans to try a different approach to alleviating poverty with guaranteed incomes.

"We have an opportunity to right a system that is, in my opinion, quite broken," said Carissa Davis, a single mother who attended the consultation session on Coventry Road.
Carissa Davis finds the current social assistance system too focused on policing people's finances. She believes a guaranteed income would empower mothers like her to improve their situations and not risk having benefits clawed back. (Kate Porter/CBC)

She finds the current social assistance model overly bureaucratic and more focused on policing people's incomes than empowering them to break a cycle and get out of poverty.

Davis is excited that Ontario is looking at the idea of offering individuals a basic income, set at amounts higher than what the government provides for those on Ontario Works or disability support payments.

The concept is that if people have a secure income, and see less money clawed back, they will be able to feed their families healthier foods and have more incentive to find work or get more education.

"I think this is such an amazing opportunity to really do something that can lift people further ahead," said Davis.

Segal report provided basis for consultation

Government officials have been travelling the province for the last two months, asking about who should be eligible for a guaranteed income, how much money they should receive, and which communities should act as test sites.

They're working from recommendations made to the Ontario government by former Conservative senator Hugh Segal.

He suggested Ontario provide people with a basic income of about $1,320 per month, with an extra $500 for those on disability.

Segal also suggested the idea be tested over three years in three communities — a northern one with a commodities-based economy, a southern one with no major government employer, and a First Nation — as well as in a neighbourhood of a big city.

"Hugh Segal presented us with, I guess, a pretty ambitious plan," community services minister Helena Jaczek told CBC News on Tuesday.

But Jaczek said the premier and Liberal government are committed to rolling out some form of pilot project to gather data over three years.

Anti-poverty activists want increase to social assistance now

Some anti-poverty groups, however, are calling for immediate increases to Ontario Works and Ontario disability support rates.

The advocacy group ACORN made that demand at the outset of Ottawa's session on Tuesday, as other groups have at basic income consultations in other cities.
Members of the advocacy group Ottawa ACORN say they don't want to wait three years for the results of a study about implementing guaranteed incomes. They called on the Ontario government to increase social assistance rates immediately. (Kate Porter/CBC)

Minister Jaczek acknowledged to CBC News that the current rates — an individual on welfare receives a maximum of about $700 per month — are too low.

"We know that the current system is not necessarily serving people well," said Jaczek.

"So while this is a [basic income] pilot and we're going to wait for evidence over three years and so on, we are going ahead and making sure we're looking at the current system and going to try to improve it."

Jaczek said she will address some issues that have been raised in the upcoming provincial budget.

As for the basic income pilot, the public can still provide their comments to the government online until Jan. 31.

Ontario is supposed to present details of how and where it would roll out by April.