Doug Ford was wrong to axe the basic income pilot


National Post, 30 August 2018

Something new could have been something better. It is very unlikely that it would have been worse

We know what happens in Ontario when the government changes its mind and breaks contracts with large corporations. Dalton McGuinty’s gas plant cancellations cost the province some $1 billion, not counting the cost of prosecuting McGuinty’s officials for their role in trying to cover it all up.

What will happen to those low-income Ontarians who signed up for the government’s three-year pilot project on a “basic income,” sometimes called a “guaranteed annual income” or “negative income tax”? The new provincial government cancelled the pilot program this summer. It had begun in April 2017.

In Lindsay, Ontario — one of the three test communities — a class-action suit was filed this week against the government of Ontario. The argument is that participants in the pilot program had made plans and commitments based on the basic income project, and therefore have been materially damaged by its cancellation. I don’t know the law on these matters, but I think the likelihood of citizens prevailing over a government’s power to change its income support programs is slim. But perhaps a court will rule that signing up for the program, which involved certain commitments and granting of access to personal data, did constitute an enforceable contract.

I thought it a mistake for the new Ford government to cancel the program. I don’t question the right of a government to change the policies and programs of its predecessor. That’s the point of voters having choices. Indeed, one reason that the Progressive Conservative Party was so quick to rid itself of Patrick Brown, independent of the sexual impropriety allegations against him, was that a large part of the party was upset with his assurances that nothing much would change if he were to be elected.

The basic income was a test program that, despite it being introduced by a Liberal government, is not necessarily a liberal program. Yes, it has more backers on the liberal side than the conservative side of politics, but the philosophy of a basic income has been championed by conservative, even libertarian thinkers.

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