Sudbury·Audio

Demonstrators urge province to take immediate action on basic income

A meeting to discuss the Ontario government's plan to implement a basic income pilot project was briefly interrupted on Monday evening in Sudbury, Ont., by calls to immediately hike social assistance rates.

'If it's good enough for a pilot project, it's good enough for every one in Ontario right now'

Helena Jaczek, Minister of Community and Social Services, visited Sudbury, Ont., on Monday to talk about the provincial government's plan to implement a basic income pilot project. (CBC)

A meeting to discuss the Ontario government's plan to implement a basic income pilot project was briefly interrupted on Monday evening in Sudbury, Ont., by calls to immediately hike social assistance rates. 

Members of the Raise the Rates campaign held a straw poll. They asked people in the audience if they want the province to bring Ontario Works payments up to $1,320 a month and increase disability payments by $500, as recommended by former Conservative Senator Hugh Segal.

The majority of people in the room raised their hands in support. 

"If it's good enough for a pilot project, it's good enough for every one in Ontario right now," Raise the Rates member Gary Kinsman said.

"We actually need people having more income so that they can afford to pay their rent, so that they're not becoming homeless, so that they can actually eat properly, they can support their families and right now that's not the situation. Things are pretty desperate, and that's why we felt that this type of action was necessary."

'Free to express their opinion'

The Minister of Community and Social Services, Helena Jaczek, listened to the group's unofficial resolution. 

"Their essential point is raise the rates and we've heard this at each of the consultations," Jaczek said.

"We need to hear from them and they're free to express their opinion, and I've certainly heard what they've had to say."
Gary Kinsman, member of Raise the Rates campaign, is calling on the provincial government to immediately increase social assistance payments instead of spending time crafting pilot projects. (Kate Rutherford/CBC)

The province is studying how giving people a basic income might reduce poverty, and improve health, education and housing. 

"Are they in some way healthier? Fewer emergency room visits? Better feeling of well being," Jaczek said.

Sudbury is being considered as one of the locations to try out the concept. 

'Charging for things they cover right now?'

Resident Charles Tossell, 33, wants to be part of the pilot project.

Tossell currently receives $1,243 per month on disability.

He recently discovered he had been living with diabetes for one year without knowing. 

"Had they given us a better income beforehand to take care of ourselves and eat healthier, this may not have happened," Tossell said.

The experience compelled Tossell to wear a shirt he made to Monday's meeting that read: "Raise the rates! Poverty makes us all sick."
Charles Tossell wants to be take part in the province's basic income pilot project. (Olivia Stefanovich/CBC)

If the province introduces a basic income, Tossell wants to make sure his benefits are not privatized.

"That's what I'm really concerned about," Tossell said.

"Would they start charging for things they cover right now?"

Minister wants to 'get this right'

The province is allocating funds in next year's budget to test a basic income program so it can find out what difference a guaranteed income really makes to those on the conventional social assistance system.

"We want to get this right," Jaczek said.

"Is really about rates? Or is it about the mechanism of providing the income?"

About the Author

Olivia Stefanovich

Senior reporter

Olivia Stefanovich is a senior reporter for CBC's Parliamentary Bureau based in Ottawa. She previously worked in Toronto, Saskatchewan and northern Ontario. Connect with her on Twitter at @CBCOlivia. Send story tips to: olivia.stefanovich@cbc.ca.