THUNDER BAY - A class-action lawsuit on behalf of recipients who were enrolled in the province’s Basic Income Pilot Program received new life following a decision by the Ontario Court of Appeal to overturn a previous ruling dismissing the claim.
“We consider this to be a big victory, we are very pleased with the results. It means the class action can continue and we can keep fighting on behalf of Basic Income recipients,” said attorney Kaley Duff with the Toronto-based law firm Cavalluzzo that is leading the class-action.
The Basic Income Pilot Program was launched by the provincial government under Kathleen Wynn’s Ontario Liberal Party in April 2017 and was designed to study the effects of providing people with regular fixed income payments.
Eligible participants were to receive up to $17,000 per year, less 50 per cent of any earned income, while couples could receive up to $24,000 per year.
A total of 6,000 people were enrolled in the pilot from three cities, including Lindsay, Hamilton, and Thunder Bay.
Locally, 1,000 people received a basic income while an additional 1,000 people were part of a control group participating in the study.
The $150 million pilot program was to run for three years but was cancelled in July 2018, shortly after the Ford government took office the previous month.
A class action lawsuit was filed in March 2019 seeking $200 million in damages, alleging the provincial government was in breach of contract for cancelling the program two years early.
“The pilot was meant to be for three years and the government cancelled it [after] about one year, depending on when you signed up,” Duff said. “So we say there was a contract to participate in the pilot for three years and the government breached that contract when they cancelled the program without very much notice.”
In November 2020, the Ontario Superior Court dismissed a motion to certify the statement of claim, stating it did not “disclose a reasonable cause of action.”
An appeal of the Ontario Superior Court’s ruling was submitted and on June 21, 2022, the Ontario Court of Appeal granted the motion arguing the amended claim discloses a cause for action of breach of contract under the Class Proceedings Act.
“We argued that there was a contract between Basic Income recipients and the Ontario government and that is the basis the class-action can proceed on,” Duff said. “We are very happy with the result, even though we didn’t win on every point we raised. We always felt confident of our contract claim and that was the one that was successful at the court of appeal, so we are very happy with that.”
Duff added that the class-action is a way for people affected by the cancellation of the pilot to receive justice.
“This is a group of very vulnerable people who may not have otherwise been able to bring their own claims and this is the kind of thing class-actions do, to give access to justice to people who may not otherwise be able to access it,” she said.
In Ontario, an individual who meets the class designation is automatically a part of the class-action but can choose to opt out after the case is certified.
The case will now return to the Ontario Superior Court for certification. No dates have been set yet for the motion to be heard but Duff said class-action cases are very complex and take time.
And while the class-action lists $200 million in general damages, Duff said the specific amount of damages will depend on individual members enrolled in the program.
“What we are seeking on behalf of class members is whatever payments have been missed as a result of the cancellation,” she said. “That number will look different from person to person because those payments depended on what your income was or how big your family is.”