Officials from the Canadian province of Ontario just announced plans to implement a universal basic income experiment in which residents of Ontario would be provided with unconditional cash payments just for being citizens. While details remain sparse, the finance ministry of Ontario has released a report that confirms the province’s plans to pursue a basic income policy. In a budget statement, the provincial government said that “as Ontario’s economy grows, the government remains committed to leaving no one behind.” As advancing automation and income inequality squeeze working people in Ontario and elsewhere, a basic income could provide stability on which to build a better life.
Basic income is not a new concept in Canada. Between 1974 and 1979, the Manitoba provincial government funded and facilitated an experiment known as Mincome, in which every family was granted an unconditional cash payment. Critics of basic income claim that such a program would encourage a culture of idleness. However, a recent analysis of the Mincome experiment by Manitoban economic Evelyn Forget found that only new mothers and teenagers worked significantly less under the program. Further, the usually uncounted labor of raising children and caring for a family was integrated and compensated under a basic income system.
Building upon the work in Manitoba in the 1970s, the modern experiment in Ontario is the first step in what advocates hope could be a national policy change. “We need it rolled out across Canada, and Quebec, too, is in the game,” says Sheila Regehr, chair of Basic Income Canada Network. “So there’s no reason why people and governments in other parts of this country need sit on the sidelines – it’s time for us all to get to work.”
Jean-Yves Duclos, Canadian federal minister of families, children, and social development, is also on board. “There are many different types of guaranteed minimum income,” says Duclos. “I’m personally pleased that people are interested in the idea.” The Ontario government promises an inclusive process, stating that they “will work with communities, researchers and other stakeholders in 2016 to determine how best to implement a Basic Income pilot.” If the experiment is successful, it could provide a positive blueprint for other states searching for solutions to an inequitable economy.