It is time for Ottawa to test Basic Income

By Spectator EditorialThe Hamilton Spectator

Hamilton is fortunate to have an organization like the Hamilton Community Foundation day in and out working to improve the life and health of the community. HCF’s work is important all the time, but rarely is it so visible and critical as when the foundation conducts its annual Vital Signs research and announces the findings, which it did in a special section in Tuesday’s Spectator.

Of course the fact that we should feel thankful for the foundation and its work doesn’t mean it’s always a happy story. The release of this year’s Vital Signs data is, in fact, quite the opposite.

Those of us who are passionate about the welfare, health and future of this community want to — even need to — feel like we are making progress. But based on this year’s Vital Signs data, progress is modest.

The data are too comprehensive to deal with in detail here. To read the Vital Signs report go the or the foundation’s website,

But to summarize, consider one of the main elements, headlined “We are not all in this together.” That headline really is worth a thousand words.

Hamilton remains as it has been for too long, a city suffering from serious economic and social stratification. Whether you measure by neighbourhood, by postal code, by neighbourhood income and health outcomes, or ethnicity, all the answers come out the same. To an unhealthy degree, this is a community of people who have, and people who have not, and the pandemic has only magnified that reality.

All of the work done by countless grassroots workers, community activists and advocates has made a difference, but not in a game-changing way. Hamilton would be infinitely worse off without the work of those people and organizations, including the community foundation. But the harsh reality is this: With a few exceptions, we are treading water.

Why? The answers are not simple, but many of them lead back to the same central fact: Alone, this municipal government and all the dedicated people working on Hamilton are not big enough to generate adequate critical momentum. That is not to say there is a single magic solution, but it is to say that senior governments are essential partners to generate that essential critical mass.

The Ontario government has not shown any indication of being a partner in this regard. But the federal government, this particular federal government, could. It has demonstrated the ability, with programs like the universal child benefit, CERB and the national housing strategy. But it must do more.

It is time to correct the ideology-driven error made by the Ford government when it cancelled Ontario’s Basic Income pilot project two years ago. Even though the pilot was killed before it could be properly assessed, we know thanks to research from McMaster University that nearly…

All the signs were pointing to BI making a dramatic difference in the lives of recipients. Better housing, education and health outcomes. Stereotypes about BI eroding work ethic were blown away when the opposite happened. The mental health of recipients improved with a new sense of self-determination and optimism.

Thanks to other research from McMaster, we also know that people receiving CERB, as opposed to those struggling to get by on vastly inadequate social assistance rates, fared better during the pandemic.

In spite of the premature death of the Ontario BI pilot, the international basic income movement has not slowed down. There is a reason for that: Basic Income makes sense. It has the potential to change the trajectory and stratification of communities like Hamilton. It just needs a government willing to allow Basic Income a chance to prove it.

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