Bring basic income to B.C., says politician behind Ontario pilot project

Ontario minimum-wage hike could cause 185K job losses, says business community

A pilot project to give people struggling under the poverty line a guaranteed salary with no strings attached is currently underway in Ontario and the man behind the idea is in Vancouver today, making the case that it's time for a basic income in B.C. too.

Former Conservative Senator Hugh Segal, a strong advocate for the basic income model, penned the provincial discussion paper that prompted the pilot project in Ontario. He explained to On The Coast host Stephen Quinn why he believes spending is key to saving when it comes to poverty reduction.

"What we have to look at is the real cost of poverty," Segal said.

"Folks who are on a low income will get sick sooner, they will go to hospital for longer periods of time, they will have less constructive educational outcomes, they will have more  difficulties with the law—all of which end up costing us quite a bit of money," he said.

Paying for poverty reduction 

Instead, Segal proposes that everyone between the ages of 18 to 65 should earn a basic income that, if not reached through employment, is topped up by the provincial government. In Ontario, the basic income level for the three-year pilot project is $1,320 per month, with an additional $500 for those with a disability.  

"The bottom line is, unlike welfare which discourages people from working, this would give people a base they could rely on and then they could end up working and earn more and be taxed fairly," Segal said.

B.C is the only province in Canada without a poverty reduction plan and, despite being one of the wealthiest provinces, has among the highest poverty rates in the country. Nearly one in 10 people in Metro Vancouver is considered working poor — someone who is employed but still falls under the poverty line.

Poverty reduction advocates in B.C. have also called for raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, establishing $10-a-day child care, reducing housing prices and investing more in current social assistance program.  

But Segal is convinced that a guaranteed income is the solution. The pilot project in Ontario will illustrate the net costs and gains, he said, and then it is up to the other provinces to make a decision about poverty reduction.

"When you go forward and test an idea, test it constructively and see what it's results are, that is the best way to build a plan that is tied to reality," Segal said.

With files from On The Coast