Ontario’s Liberal leader made some big promises that could have a big impact on Hamilton

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Published October 18, 2021 at 1:11 pm

At the party's annual general meeting Sunday (Oct. 17), Del Duca pledged to eliminate the province's first-past-the-post system in favour of ranked ballots, a pilot project to examine the feasibility of a four-day workweek, as well as reinstate a basic income pilot project, which was set up by the previous Liberal government and cancelled by the Tories.

Ontario Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca is coming in hot.

At the party’s annual general meeting Sunday (Oct. 17), Del Duca pledged to eliminate the province’s first-past-the-post system in favour of ranked ballots, a pilot project to examine the feasibility of a four-day workweek, as well as reinstate a basic income pilot project, which was set up by the previous Liberal government and cancelled by the Tories.

Of course, Del Duca will first have to get elected in the June 2022 election. He took over as Liberal leader in March 2020 from former premier Kathleen Wynne, who stepped down after a dismal election result in 2018. The Liberals were reduced from a majority government to third place without official party status in the legislature. They currently hold seven seats.

There’s a lot of dissect from the Ontario Liberal’s preliminary platform but the basic income pilot, specifically, should perk some ears up in Hamilton; assuming Del Duca continues where Wynne left off.

Hamilton, Lindsay, and Thunder Bay were chosen by the province to take part in a basic income pilot project from 2017 to 2019. 4,000 people were given $1,416.67 per month — no strings attached, and for every dollar of income earned, their basic income amount would decrease by 50 cents. In other words, once someone made $34,000, they would no longer receive basic income.

Despite Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives cancelling the pilot after only a year, McMaster University and Ryerson University, in partnership with the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction, conducted their own evaluation of the program.

According to the study, not only did the vast majority of those employed before the pilot report that they were working while receiving a basic income, but many reported moving to higher-paying and more secure jobs.

Other findings from the study include:

  • Everyone who received basic income reported benefitting in some way.
  • Many recipients reported improvements in their physical and mental health, labour market participation, food security, housing stability, financial status, and social relationships.
  • Basic income also had a noticeable impact on the use of health services, with many of the survey respondents indicating less frequent visits to health practitioners and hospital emergency rooms.
  • For a significant number of participants, basic income purportedly proved to be transformational, fundamentally reshaping their living standards as well as their sense of self-worth and hope for a better future.
  • Those working before the pilot reported even greater improvements on some measures of well-being than those who were not working before.

Even the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce, along with its business advocacy counterparts, called for a basic income pilot project.

While an appetite for a government program that guarantees citizens a minimum regular paycheck has always existed, the COVID-19 pandemic brought an unprecedented level of support — not only from social service and advocacy groups but also from organizations that have historically taken a more capitalistic stance on such matters.

One year ago, the Hamilton Chamber participated in the Canadian Chamber of Commerce’s (CCC) Virtual Annual General Meeting, where chambers from across Canada voted on policies the network will advocate for in Ottawa.

“The Hamilton Chamber advanced a resolution, co-sponsored by the Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce, calling for the Canadian government to create a basic income pilot project and assess the potential costs, benefits, pitfalls, challenges and outcomes of a nationwide basic income social assistance program,” read a media release from the Hamilton Chamber.

The idea of a federal basic income program has since faded, but perhaps an example at the provincial level could reignite some enthusiasm.

During his speech over the weekend, Del Duca vowed to resign as party leader if he doesn’t deliver electoral reform by the end of a first term. While he made no such promise regarding basic income, Del Duca at the very least appears ready to go beyond cheap beer and morning tailgating and introduce real change.

–with files from The Canadian Press

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