“This feels like the Hunger Games” is what one participant said at the Basic Income consultation in Sault Ste. Marie on Wednesday evening, when asked to suggest which community should be in the Basic Income pilot.
“Why start with a 3 year pilot to a select few? Once the pilot ends you will take 3 – 7 years to study the results, in the meantime the poor will suffer.” (see 20 sec. video here).
The Emergency Resolution calling for an immediate increase in social assistance rates again received overwhelming support. As Chris Ballard, the Minister for Poverty Reduction made his opening remarks, many participants held up signs saying “Why Wait? Raise the Rates!”
People at the session repeatedly spoke out about the inadequacy of social assistance rates and that poverty is a crisis across Ontario that needs immediate attention.
“Poverty is a human rights issue. We don’t want a Basic Income pilot. We feel the rates should be raised for everyone now!” (See 15 sec. video here).
Bait and Switch? Or Maybe A Trojan Horse?
75 people attended pre-consultation workshops led by Mike Balkwill (and organized by Algoma Community Legal Clinic) and discussed critical questions about Basic Income. (See article here in SaultOnline)
There is an ‘austere’ Basic Income proposal from the neoliberal right that proposes a small unconditional payment, that replaces all other income security programs and many social services.
There is a progressive vision of a Basic Income program that offers an unconditional benefit large enough to lift almost everyone out of poverty. While social assistance would be replaced, most other major income security programs – social insurance plans, income supports for the working poor, child and elderly benefits – would remain intact. Social services would be unaffected.
Given the danger that a neoliberal Basic Income program could be introduced under the pretense of offering a progressive BI plan a critical discussion is required on the following questions:
- Which vision of a Basic Income program should we expect the Ontario Liberal government to implement, given its track record on poverty reduction?
- What are the benefits to the Ontario Liberal government in talking about a ‘progressive’ version of Basic Income at this time?
- If the Ontario Liberal government was not re-elected and a new government (Conservative or NDP) had the responsibility of implementing a Basic Income program – which one would it implement?
Given that the cost of living has exceeded the increases to social assistance from the Ontario Liberal government, and that they never restored the cuts made by Mike Harris:
- Why should we believe the Ontario Liberal government is serious about a Basic Income that is between 40% and 90% more than current social assistance rates?
- Is it fair that hundreds of thousands of people continue to live in deep poverty for the next 3 – 5 years while they wait for results of a Basic Income pilot??
- Is it fair that communities should be asked to compete to be selected for the higher rates proposed in Basic Income pilot?
- Will a Basic Income policy provide the government with a rationale to reduce or privatize other services?
- Will a Basic Income allow the government to weaken the labour movement by reducing the number of unionized public sector workers?
- Can you imagine employers will support a Basic Income payment that lifts people above the poverty line?
A report on the demonstration in Thunder Bay at the Basic Income consultation will be published Monday.
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