Premier Kathleen Wynne announced this week that the Ontario government will test the idea of a guaranteed annual income.
Four thousand households will reportedly benefit from the plan budgeted to cost Ontarians $25 million this year alone.
This isn’t the first time such an initiative has been undertaken. In the 1970s, a federal-provincial project occurred in Manitoba, where it was dubbed “Mincome.” Results of that test were dubious, as were conclusions for similar programs tried elsewhere.
Former Conservative senator Hugh Segal has been brought on board as an unpaid advisor to comment on what clearly is a pet subject for him. He had suggested such strategies in the past to help alleviate poverty and the stresses that come with barely getting by.
The upside to topping off families that have fallen on hard times is the pressure is eased for them. They will have additional cash flow to make some of life’s harder choices easier.
Opponents to the plan suggest taking off the pressure makes recipients less willing to work.
Segal told CBC News many of the working poor have jobs, just not good-paying jobs. It’s a conundrum with few simple answers.
One of our commonly asked questions at work and home is what is mission critical, or on other occasions, what is the priority right now? It’s offered up as a question when clearly time is being wasted. For the kids it might be about choosing to watch a show rather than finish homework. At work, it can revolve around the choice to goof around rather than make calls.
The point is, we all have a mission critical or a priority. Some individuals just happen to naturally and consistently make better choices than others. In the bigger picture, these choices include finishing school, upgrading skills and seeking better employment opportunities.
It seems logical to believe that if a person’s number one priority is ensuring access to shelter and food that most people would move heaven and Earth to make that happen.
We have no doubt that many families struggle and we empathize with that daily battle. We have no doubt either that some folks just can’t resist the urge to waste time and opportunity. Perhaps more accurately, they just don’t know any better.
Case in point was a scene we saw played out on a monthly basis when we worked in Guelph. Come welfare cheque day, taxis would pull up to the local convenience store, patrons would emerge with bags of expensive snacks and “food,” place them on top of the case of beer in the trunk, climb in the back seat and drive off. Certainly this was not necessarily representative of the majority of cases, but it is an example of easy come, easy go attitudes when pay isn’t earned.
These types of scenarios give pause for concern to hard working people that put in their time at their job and do their level best to spend wisely. These attitudes erupted back in the Harris government days into a negative wave of generalization about those on assistance of any kind.
Two Liberal premiers later, a similar sentiment of resentment is percolating. News of guaranteed income plans, coupled with massive debt and boondoggles like soaring Hydro costs and scores of other missteps, could see Ontario on a collision course with misgivings as in the past.
Oddly, the notion of a guaranteed income is something we have mused about with politicians in the past. Stagnant wages, a less than robust economy with anemic growth and the introduction of robots in factory settings are all factors facing the Canadian economy in the years ahead. The gap between the working poor and the well to do is increasing. The problem is evident enough that the Liberal Party of Canada gave the nod to the minimum income notion as a party policy last year.
Even the service industry, touted as part of the new economy for North America, is showing signs of job loss as companies and even government agencies push for on-line and self-serve formats. Worse yet, some of these jobs are being outsourced overseas, since companies are finding it increasingly difficult to hire people here who want to work.
It will be interesting to see the results of the project and whether there are merits to offering a solid base pay for all Ontarians.