Canada Plans to Try a Basic Income Program to Combat Poverty

March 5th 2016

The Canadian province of Ontario plans to roll out an unconventional program designed to combat poverty this year. The government will test out a "basic income" system that gives residents a monthly stipend to cover expenses such as food, transportation, and utilities.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberal party appears open to expanding the basic income program in the country.

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While details about the pilot program have not been released, Ontario's government included the basic income pilot program in budget documents released on Thursday, The Huffington Post reports. Premier of Ontario Kathleen Wynne said that the government "will test a growing view at home and abroad that a basic income could build on the success of minimum wage policies and increases in child benefits by providing more consistent and predictable support in the context of today’s dynamic labour market."

Canada isn't the only country experimenting with a basic income. Finland and the Netherlands both have similar programs slated to launch this year, and voters in Switzerland will vote on a referendum to initiate a basic income system that offers citizens about $3,200 per month in June.

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Sheila Regehr, the chair of Basic Income Canada Network — a national organization advocating for the program — praised Ontario's government for supporting the basic income pilot and said that "[w]e need it rolled out across Canada, and Quebec too is in the game, 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," in a press release.

The idea of a universal basic income is an increasingly popular proposal, Quartz reports. To some, the idea of providing people with a monthly allowance to cover essential expenses is regarded as a leftist policy that would discourage productivity. But at least one study, published in 2013, showed that people worked 17 percent longer hours and earned 38 percent higher wages when provided with the financial safety net.

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Trudeau's party could expand the program in Canada.

In a policy resolution, the party pointed to the fact that one in 11 Canadians live in poverty and that the country's welfare programs do not sufficiently meet the needs of some working-age Canadians.

"Be it resolved that the Liberal Party of Canada advocate for a federal pilot of a basic income supplement in at least one Canadian town or city, in cooperation with the appropriate provincial and municipal government(s)," City Councilor Jesse Helmer wrote in the resolution.

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