Publications, opinions, and speeches


Lessons from Ontario’s Basic Income Pilot

Published on 16/10/2019

Download the report (PDF)

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

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.

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 (PDF)

Additional resource

Lessons from Ontario: Michael Mendelson presenting to the Special Committee on Poverty in Prince Edward Island
On October 25, 2019, Mr. Mendelson discussed his paper “Lessons from Ontario’s Basic Income Pilot” ahead of PEI’s own upcoming basic income program.

In the news

Ontario Morning (CBC): Michael Mendelson, a fellow with Maytree Foundation, discusses the report they have just published on the recently-cancelled basic income pilot here in Ontario
Published: October 21, 2019

CBC News: The World This Weekend: Michael Mendelson was interviewed for a segment on Basic Income 
Published: November 2, 2019 (segment starts at 10:48)

The Guardian (P.E.I.): Mulling over a BIG idea, Basic Income Guarantee program for P.E.I.
Published: November 6, 2019
Members of the legislative special committee on poverty have met with former Conservative Senator Hugh Segal, a key architect of the cancelled Ontario Basic Income Pilot, as well as Evelyn Forget and Michael Mendelson, two leading experts on the subject.


Evidence-based policy, Income security


While the Ontario Basic Income Pilot was cancelled shortly after it started, there are still lessons to be learned.