Media release

New report looks at lessons from the cancelled Ontario Basic Income Pilot

Published on 17/10/2019

While the Ontario Basic Income Pilot was cancelled shortly after it started, there are still lessons to be learned. In a just published report, Maytree Fellow Michael Mendelson looks at Ontario’s experience and offers ideas on how to – and how not to – set up future Basic Income trials.

The Ontario Basic Income Pilot attracted attention not just in Canada, but internationally. Any jurisdiction setting up a new Basic Income experiment or pilot, whether in Canada, the United States, Europe or elsewhere, can benefit from understanding key potential improvements and limitations in the design of Ontario’s Basic Income experiment.

The report focuses in particular on three aspects of the pilot in which the experimental design fell short: lack of a “saturation” site, problems of enrollment, and use of the income tax system to test recipients’ income.

Mr. Mendelson then suggests two different types of Basic Income experiments that could yield useful results. One would be an ambitious and path-breaking tax-based Basic Income with automatic enrollment of a whole community on an opt-out basis. The other would be a modest experiment simply making existing social assistance unconditional in a “test” community. These are at the opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of expense and innovation, but they have one aspect in common: to make a new meaningful contribution, both types of experiment demand a saturation site.

Another issue concerns a political reality: a meaningful pilot will require longer than a single term of government. Any future project will have to be run by a third party whose priority is the experiment, and the third party needs to be funded to complete the project from start to finish.

The author also suggests a five-step process for governments considering another Basic Income experiment:

  1. Invest the time and effort needed up-front to formulate the questions you want to answer.
  2. Consult widely and thoroughly with experts on how to design an experiment that will provide good evidence towards answering these questions.
  3. Design the experiment and field test it including feedback from participants and independent experts.
  4. Based on a tested design, establish a realistic budget and timeline for the experiment from beginning to end, including analysis of the results.
  5. Award an independent external agency the job of running the experiment and endow it with the funds needed to carry out the experiment from start to finish.

Download the report at https://maytree.com/publications/lessons-from-ontarios-basic-income-pilot/.

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About the report author
Michael Mendelson is a Fellow at Maytree. He was previously Senior Scholar at the Caledon Institute of Social Policy. He has also been a Deputy Minister in several portfolios in Ontario and Manitoba.