THUNDER BAY -- Most of the 50 people demonstrating outside of Ontario's basic income guarantee consultation on Thursday evening weren't protesting the proposed policy.
They want a minimum income instated now.
Thunder Bay Coalition to Raise Social Assistance Rates spokeswoman Kim Chicago cited a report former senator Hugh Segal wrote in August that identified $1,320 per month as the minimum income on which a healthy Ontarian can survive. Segal suggested those living with disabilities require $500 more.
Chicago, who is also the Thunder Bay-Rainy River NDP Riding Association president, accused the Liberal government of delaying the program's implementation, insisting the jury is back on the need for Ontario's social assistance programs to be reformed immediately.
"You have the information, you have the knowledge, you know what people need to live on so raise the rates now," she said.
"A pilot project is going to take five years before we get an answer. So you're going to leave thousands of people in this province in absolute abject poverty for five years when you already know what they need: they need more money."
Instead, Ontario launched an online survey while Minister of Housing Chris Ballard has been conducting consultations across the province since November.
The premier's office has tasked the ministry to unveil the pilot project's design in April. Ministry staff would not commit to announcing which community or communities will be chosen for the two-or-three-year trial program at that time, nor would they commit to announcing the pilot's implementation date.
The resolve of Ballard's critics is not news to him. He recognizes 70 per cent of Ontarians living below the poverty line are working poor, some holding two jobs while falling further behind.
"What we're hearing is real passion from Ontarians for change. People are saying we've been doing things the same way for many, many years and perhaps it's time we do things a little differently now," Ballard said before the meeting.
"There's a wide range of inputs and I'm so glad the people who are outside are inside tonight because I really want to hear what they have to say."
Ministry officials instructed media to leave Thursday evening's consultation following Ballard's brief speech but they claimed the session would seek input on the value of the basic income pilot, its location, how to deliver the program, how to evaluate its success and who should be eligible.
"Poverty costs us all way too much," Ballard said.
"Outside of the moral and ethical reasons we need to make sure no one goes hungry, that everyone can rise and meet their full potential, poverty is a real cost to our society."
Meeting with local anti-poverty groups and those who advocate for injured workers, Thunder Bay-Superior North MPP Michael Gravelle knows the challenges his constituents face if they live below the poverty line in the north. He's been advocating for regional communities in general and Thunder Bay in specific to be selected as the province's Basic Income Guarantee trial site.
"The cost of living is much higher here in Northern Ontario than they are in other parts of the province," Gravelle said.
"I think it makes sense to seriously look at a location like Thunder Bay or somewhere in Northern Ontario as part of the basic pilot site."