A chance for Ford to be vi­sion­ary

Pres­sure builds on On­tario pre­mier to re­verse course and see ba­sic in­come pi­lot project to com­ple­tion

Standard-Freeholder (Cornwall) - - FORUM - R. MICHAEL WAR­REN R. Michael War­ren is a for­mer cor­po­rate di­rec­tor, On­tario deputy min­is­ter, TTC chief gen­er­als man­ager and Canada Post CEO. r.michael.war­ren@gmail.com

Dur­ing On­tario’s spring elec­tion, Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive Leader Doug Ford said he would not can­cel the prov­ince’s lead­ing edge, ba­sic in­come pi­lot project. It is, in­deed, one of the most im­por­tant and com­pre­hen­sive ex­am­i­na­tions of the con­cept in the world.

But not long af­ter win­ning a ma­jor­ity gov­ern­ment, Pre­mier Ford an­nounced he will wrap up the so­cial ser­vice ex­per­i­ment in March — a year ear­lier than needed to pro­duce re­li­able find­ings about fund­ing, sys­tem sav­ings, and so­cial and health gains.

The project in­volves 4,000 low­in­come par­tic­i­pants in Hamil­ton-Brant­ford, Thun­der Bay and Lind­say. They re­ceive steady in­comes of $16,989 for sin­gles and up to $24,027 for cou­ples. They can go back to school or add to their ba­sic in­come by work­ing or start­ing their own busi­ness.

A group of 40 re­searchers has been ex­am­in­ing how this three­year scheme is af­fect­ing par­tic­i­pants’ lives along with the costs and ben­e­fits.

Since then a host of com­mu­nity lead­ers, who un­der­stand the im­pact on work of ac­cel­er­at­ing au­to­ma­tion and ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence, have pressed Ford to re­con­sider. They in­clude may­ors from the pi­lot cities, lawyers rep­re­sent­ing par­tic­i­pants and re­searchers at St. Michael’s Hos­pi­tal and McMaster Uni­ver­sity.

The may­ors are urg­ing the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to step in and fi­nance the pi­lot’s fi­nal year. So far the an­swer hasn’t been en­cour­ag­ing.

Do­minic LeBlanc, fed­eral min­is­ter of in­ter­gov­ern­men­tal af­fairs, has said Ot­tawa shouldn’t act as a “court of ap­peal” for pro­vin­cial pro­grams like this. “At the end of the day, they (Ford’s gov­ern­ment) are ac­count­able to their vot­ers for their de­ci­sions.”

Re­cently, how­ever, more than 100 Cana­dian CEOs joined to­gether to urge Ford and his so­cial ser­vice min­is­ter, Lisa Ma­cLeod, to re­verse their de­ci­sion and fund the project to com­ple­tion.

Their ra­tio­nale? “We see a guar­an­teed ba­sic in­come as a busi­ness-friendly ap­proach to ad­dress the in­creas­ing fi­nan­cial pre­car­ity of our cit­i­zens and re­vi­tal­ize our econ­omy.”

Ford seems to lis­ten more closely to the busi­ness com­mu­nity than any other group. They are def­i­nitely his “peo­ple.” Let’s hope he lis­tens to this group, whose com­pa­nies have a com­bined an­nual rev­enue of $1.5 bil­lion and tens of thou­sands of em­ploy­ees.

The CEOs main­tain a ba­sic in­come is needed to ad­dress struc­tural changes to the global econ­omy that are de­press­ing wages, re­duc­ing mid­dle-class jobs and sti­fling en­trepreneur­ship.

Their let­ter to Ford says: “As busi­ness lead­ers we see a ba­sic in­come as good eco­nomics and en­light­ened self-in­ter­est. It is a pro-growth, pro-busi­ness, profree mar­ket eco­nomic stim­u­lus that will grow the econ­omy and cre­ate jobs,

They ar­gue be­ing un­able to es­cape poverty even while work­ing is not only in­hu­mane, but also a huge op­por­tu­nity cost for On­tario and Cana­dian busi­ness. Ap­peal­ing di­rectly to Ford, in sim­ple terms, the CEOs em­pha­size: ”Ba­sic in­come will go right back into lo­cal busi­ness.”

The NDP and busi­ness rarely agree on any­thing. But they are shoul­der to shoul­der on the need to study the pros and cons of ba­sic in­come.

Fed­eral NDP Leader Jag­meet Singh has called on Ot­tawa to step in and con­tinue the pro­gram to com­ple­tion. He said it will pro­duce “in­valu­able data at a very rea­son­able cost . . . I think we can ac­tu­ally make an ev­i­dence-based de­ci­sion that this pro­gram can work.”

Re­cent stud­ies from Ox­ford Uni­ver­sity and the Wash­ing­ton, D.C.-based Brook­ings In­sti­tute pre­dict half of all the cur­rent day jobs will be gone within the next 15 years. Truck driv­ers, ra­di­ol­o­gists, re­tail clerks, law clerks, fi­nan­cial ad­vis­ers and thou­sands more jobs and pro­fes­sions will be re­placed by ad­vanc­ing au­to­ma­tion, ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence, ma­chine learn­ing and ro­bots.

Even the na­ture of work it­self is be­ing changed at warp speed. Per­ma­nent jobs with ben­e­fits are be­ing re­placed with con­tract and part-time work. Con­tract and free­lance work — the gig econ­omy — is rapidly be­com­ing the norm.

Fu­ture-proof­ing our work­force means ed­u­ca­tion and re­train­ing, putting the em­pha­sis on crit­i­cal think­ing, men­tal agility and team­work. It re­quires a skills-first, rather than a jobs-first ap­proach to train­ing. Peo­ple will need to de­velop the uni­ver­sal ca­pac­ity to search for in­for­ma­tion. And equally im­por­tant, the ca­pac­ity to make sense of what they find and the op­por­tu­ni­ties it re­veals.

But for many, none of this fu­ture-proof­ing will be pos­si­ble or ac­ces­si­ble with­out a ba­sic in­come to al­low them time to learn th­ese uni­ver­sal sur­vival skills.

A rare con­sen­sus has formed among busi­ness, the NDP, mu­nic­i­pal lead­ers, uni­ver­sity re­searchers and the pro­gram par­tic­i­pants. For a va­ri­ety of rea­sons, they all want Ford to con­tinue fund­ing the last year of this $150-mil­lion project.

The pre­mier ig­nores their wishes at his po­lit­i­cal peril. There is wide sup­port both here and abroad for this well de­signed pi­lot project. Gov­ern­ments all over the world have been watch­ing this project with in­ter­est. If it’s com­pleted, the re­sults will in­form pol­icy de­ci­sions in many other ju­ris­dic­tions.

Fi­nally, it’s a chance for Ford to show his pol­icy reach goes be­yond a-buck-a beer to the most press­ing is­sues of our time.


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