Adam Ashby Gibbard

On March 31, 2019, the Ontario Basic Income Trial is set to die a premature death, thanks to our new Conservative government.

The trial was meant to generate data on a possible alternative to present forms of social assistance and to see whether it could help people be mentally and physically healthier, secure housing, attain education and gain employment. The plan’s cost could then be offset by the savings from scrapping Employment Insurance (EI) and social assistance, reducing use of healthcare and keeping people out of jail.

The project isn’t really new. An eerily similar pilot ran in Manitoba in the ’70s. Dubbed “Minicome,” it was also scrapped by provincial Conservatives when they came to power, before a final report could be compiled.

The ’70s pilot ran for five years and was almost identical to the new one in Ontario. The research from that, found almost 30 years later in some 18,000 dusty boxes somewhere, were full of positive outcomes. Overall it found that people who don’t live in constant precarity are healthier, have lower rates of mental illness due to anxiety and were better prepared to enter the labour force.

Doug Ford and other Conservatives don’t see this as useful. In fact, they cancelled Ontario’s pilot, claiming it was a failed system and that “It really is a disincentive to get people back on track.” Many have pointed out that you can’t claim a trial has failed when the data for the trail hasn’t been completed. And every other completed trial – there have been a number conducted outside of Canada – contradicts Ford’s claims.

To add insult to injury, Ford also has his eyes on slashing the $15 minimum wage hike that’s meant to come into effect Jan. 1, 2019 and has reduced a planned welfare increase from 3% to 1.5%.

Illustration: Adam Ashby Gibbard
Let’s clarify something

What is too often forgotten, but is often a basis of conservative platforms, is that people are not lazy or looking for a government handout. Instead, unemployment and underemployment are parts of the system in which we all live and work.

The Ontario Basic Income Trial was a project that was looking at a new way to help people who suffer – due to capitalism being shitty. Modern capitalism requires unemployment and underemployment, both as an incentive and as a means to keep wages low.

(If you want to slog through economic policy jargon, you can also look up how interest rates are modified to keep unemployment regulated to avoid inflation, usually kept between four and six per cent.  In other words, if unemployment was zero, inflation would skyrocket. Our current economic system requires unemployment to work.)

As this is the case, then why is unemployment stigmatised and why doesn’t the government have policies in place to make sure folks don’t suffer from the hardship of a required aspect of our economy?

None of this even begins to cover the growth in inequality in Canada, nor the growth in the new precarious class: the precariat.

The Precariat Quiz!

Take the test to find out if you’re part of the latest growing trend!

  1. Do you have unstable or insecure work? (E.g. Temp, freelance, contract, on-call, self-employed)
  2. Do you have to work to find work? (E.g. Networking, retraining, waiting for jobs)
  3. Are you over-educated for the work you do?
  4. Are you one illness or accident away from financial ruin?
  5. Do you rely entirely on your wages? (E.g. Have no non-wage benefits)
  6. Don’t have a pension, sick days or paid holiday?
  7. Do you have precarious status in Canada?
  8. Do you rent your home?

If you answered yes to most of these then welcome to the precariat! Learn more here!

The new class

Whether you’re part of the new class, or know people who are, the precariat now make up a major part of the labour force in Canada – between 20-40 per cent depending on how it’s defined (52 per cent in the GTA).

This insecure class is made up of a diverse group of people, from older people having to leave more classic careers, to new immigrants trying to settle in, to newly-graduated students. A lot of this trend came out of the economic crisis of the 1980s, the inclusion of some two billion workers in China – and the effects of technology, like automation, working remotely and artificial intelligence.

For new and recent graduates, the issues surrounding precarity are only compounded by the large amount of debt they come out of post-secondary institutions with. Something that reality doesn’t include is how poorly universities prepare students for their working life. The average undergrad spends three to four years not making an income and then takes, on average, nine to fifteen years to pay off their student loan – with the prospect of living precariously and likely working a job outside of their field and below their level of education.

Politics is changing, hopefully

The growing precariat has already led to a drastic change in the political landscape of European countries, like Brexit, and, arguably, led to the election of the Orange Idiot down south.

Politics hasn’t kept pace with the changing landscape of work, leaving a growing class of stressed out and precarious people with no one to represent them. Finding no outlet for their issues, they either become angry or disillusioned. Populism is easy bait for a group of people who find themselves in constant insecurity, trying to point their anger at something or someone.

It’s not a big stretch of the imagination that a significant number of people in the precariat voted for Doug Ford, even though there is nothing in his plan that will help them. Much like Trump, it’s easy to pander to a crowd of angry people by pointing your finger at scapegoats – while using your other hand to prop up the exact system that created the precarity.

Let’s hope that representation comes and sound policy is put in place before more people in Canada are faced with living in precarity. And before right-wing populism drifts farther towards fascism.

“How about at the very least the government run a Basic Income trial to see if that, or something like that, could help?” What a great idea people from 1970s!  

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