“I am a human being.”

The fight back against the announcement by Minister of Children, Community and Social Services, Lisa MacLeod, that the provincial government would be shutting down Ontario’s basic income pilot project — in direct contradiction to an express commitment to see it through to its completion made by Doug Ford during the spring election campaign — began almost immediately.

The Ontario and Canadian Basic Income Networks spoke out strongly against the announcement, calling it a “cruel and misguided breach of trust.”

The Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, not a supporter of the basic income pilot, immediately spoke out against the decision to end it:

“Canceling the pilot demonstrates a reckless disregard for the lives of nearly 4,000 people who planned their lives on the assumption of having a set income for 3 years.”

Editorials in newspapers across the province have criticized the decision. Hugh Segal, a former Conservative senator and a supporter of basic income, wrote in an op ed in the Globe and Mail:

“The new Ontario government is obviously deeply challenged on the issue of fairness, especially in defining its core electoral slogan “For the People.” [It] has a choice to make: kindhearted, fiscally responsible, inclusive Progressive Conservatives or narrow-minded, deeply ideological, exclusionary conservatives.”

Voices from the trenches

But it is not just organizations and well-known people who are speaking out against MacLeod’s announcement. Some of the most powerful statements are coming from those who are part of the pilot. Media in Thunder Bay, Lindsay and Hamilton are sharing the stories of Ontarians who have been able to go back to school, pay for hospital parking to visit a chronically ill child, visit grandchildren, buy more nutritious food, sign a lease on a safe apartment, pay for bus fare to get to and from a job. One woman worries she may have to return to sex work.

The stories are of people who have been able to make their lives a little bit better because they had a secure income base from which to operate. And, now, they have been left to scramble. Some who had returned to school will have to put those plans on “pause.” Others will have to return to relying on a community food bank or doing without medical necessities not covered by OHIP. What will happen for people who have signed leases on housing they can no longer afford is unclear, but it won’t be good.

Time for all of us to act

One participant in the pilot has begun a petition to save it. She starts it by writing:

“I am a mother, a wife and a daughter. I am a recipient of basic income. We are not statistics to be dismissed, we are humans.”

This comment, from a pilot participant, appears on the petition site:

“Finally, could pay for medical testing not covered by OHIP! Buy fresh fruits and vegetables! Access public transit! Get my hair cut at First Choice! Ease financial stresses in relationship! So much more . . .”

Posted late last week, the petition has already attracted more than 11,000 signatures. In the time it took me to write this, more than 300 people signed it.

Please, take the minute needed to sign this petition. We need to send a clear message that tens of thousands of Ontarians expect our government to behave with decency and respect.

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