The three-year pilot of a basic income plan by the Ontario government last week is good news for some, but not all.

The program guarantees an income of about $17,000 annually for a single person and $24,000 annually for a couple, less 50 per cent of earned income. Those with disabilities will get up to $600 per month extra. The idea is to replace the current welfare system and disability payments that often demands people deplete all their financial resources before getting assistance. It also can be punitive when people earn income because that amount reduces the welfare support.

Thunder Bay and Hamilton-Brantford-Brant County are part of the pilot, along with Lindsay.

Local poverty activists gave a lukewarm response, quickly pointing out its shortcoming, including the need for province-wide implementation, as well as increasing minimum wage and addressing systemic problems related to support systems, health, and housing.

The upcoming provincial election has thrust into the spotlight various debates about how to best address poverty in Nova Scotia: wage increases, social programs, tax-based incentives, or a job. Recently, the Nova Scotia New Democratic Party announced that, if elected, it would raise the minimum wage to $15 by 2020. In May of 2016, I wrote a blog about this proposal when the Nova Scotia NDP had introduced a private member’s bill that was dismissed by the Liberal government. At the time, Premier McNeil said he was concerned this wage increase would result in inflationary pressures, and raising the Basic Personal Amount (a non-refundable provincial tax credit) would be a better way to help those in low income. Since the McNeil government included cost estimates for increasing this tax credit in the budget it introduced on April 27, we can assume that the premier maintains his position.

The NS Liberals stated that their tax proposal was designed to “help those who need it the most.” The NS NDP has said that their proposal will lift hundreds of thousands of workers out of poverty. Responses to the NDP platform proposal and to the McNeil tax proposal—some of which I unpacked in my previous blog post—have been predictable and, in some cases, misinformed. In short, the relationship between wages and costs is not as simple as people often make it out to be.

Ron Kneebone (Professor of Economics at the University of Calgary) and Katherine White (Yukon’s Deputy Finance Minister) have referred to social assistance as “the final layer of the public social safety net — designed to catch those people in need of support but unable to find it from family, friends or non-government agencies…”

(I’d argue that, in larger urban centres, social assistance is in fact the second-last layer before the homeless-serving sector…)

The idea of a basic income, where the government ensures a minimum level of earnings for everyone in the province facing poverty — about $17,000 for a single person under the pilot — has much more appeal. Gone are the complex rules while its wide availability, to both those on social assistance as well as a wage top-up to the working poor, extends help to all of Ontario’s struggling citizens.

Despite the fanfare and goodwill, selling the idea to the Ontario voters is going to be tough.

Why? Because there is absolutely no consensus in this province as to why we support the poor.