VICTORIA - British Columbia is planning to introduce a pilot program that would give some residents a basic income in what will be part of a series of legislative strategies to fight poverty, the minister in charge said Monday.
Poverty Reduction Minister Shane Simpson said his government wants to test the effectiveness of providing people with a basic income to reduce poverty, improve health, employment and housing prospects.
The NDP government is consulting with other jurisdictions that have similar programs.
"We've been talking with the province of Ontario about their work," he said at a news conference announcing the B.C. strategy. "We're also talking to people in diverse places such as Glasgow, Scotland and Oakland, Calif., where they are doing this work, too. I expect to have more to say about how we proceed with that in the new year."
B.C. currently has the highest poverty rate in Canada based on the federal government's Market Basket Measure indicator which includes the costs of food, clothing, footwear, transportation, housing and other expenses for a family with two children.
Simpson said it's estimated 678,000 people live in poverty in B.C., including 118,000 children.
The NDP made poverty reduction one of its key election promises last spring after years of labelling the former Liberal government as cold-hearted for rejecting plans to reduce one of the highest child-poverty rates in Canada.
Simpson appointed 27 people, including poverty advocates, academics and First Nations members, to an advisory group that will provide insights and guidance as the government prepares to introduce its reduction strategy and legislation next spring.
He said the dates and locations for a series of public consultations will be announced shortly.
"The end result of this, we hope, will be a complete poverty reduction strategy next year," Simpson said. "I look forward to hearing from British Columbians who believe this is an issue that we need to challenge and who believe we need to reduce inequality, and reducing poverty is a fundamental step in that."
He said the poverty issue cuts across all communities and statistics indicate that 40 per cent of those in poverty have low-paying jobs.
Dawn Hemingway, chairwoman of the School of Social Work at the University of Northern B.C., said she expects the government's strategy will make a real difference in people's lives.
"I want to underline that as a human being and as a social worker, I firmly believe that it is a basic human right for everyone to have a good quality of life," she said.
Hemingway was appointed as one of the leaders for the advisory group.
Simpson said the government has yet to decide how many people would be involved in the basic income project or the amount of money that would be provided to those participants, but it has already undertaken consultations with academics and other experts.
He said a federal-provincial initiative in the 1970s conducted a basic income experiment in the community of Dauphin, Man. Researchers looking at the program, called Mincome, said it was stopped after four years when Canada fell into an economic recession.
The Ontario government's project is measuring how a basic wage helps people living on low incomes meet their needs for food, shelter, health and employment training.