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Ontario government facing $200M proposed class-action over early cancellation of basic income pilot

The provincial government is facing a class-action lawsuit seeking $200 million in damages for the early termination of a basic income pilot project in three cities across Ontario.

On March 4, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice certified the lawsuit, filed by Cavalluzzo LLP on behalf of 4,000 proposed class members.

The plaintiffs argue the cancellation of the program equates to a breach of contract.

In 2017, the Ontario government launched a three-year basic income pilot for low-income earners in Hamilton, Lindsay, and Thunder Bay. The goal of the research study was to determine if the government should consider introducing a fixed income.

The 4,000 people who signed onto the pilot completed regular surveys and provided personal information to the researchers. In exchange, single participants received just under $17,000 a year while couples received just over $24,000.

A year later, following an election and change of hands in government, the province abruptly announced it was terminating the pilot. The final payment date was set as March 25, 2019.

At the time, the government claimed the program didn’t help people contribute to the economy and that it discouraged them from getting back on track. The class argues the province was motivated by “unjust enrichment.”

The pilot’s cancellation was “devastating” for applicants, court documents dating back to 2019 state. “As a result of the cancellation, their futures are in jeopardy, their health has suffered,”

Dana Bowman, a 57-year-old with long-term disabilities, had planned to upgrade her education toward a career in social work, which had not been financially feasible with the Ontario Disability Support Program.

Grace Hillion, a 20-year-old student at Durham College, had planned to pay her tuition and continue her college education, which had been in jeopardy due to financial issues.

The Ontario government would not comment on the class action as it is in the appeal period, making it “inappropriate” to do so. However, the province argued in court filings that a class action would not be fair, efficient or manageable – a submission rejected by presiding Justice Stephen T. Bale.

“Counsel argued that 4,000 small claims court actions would be the preferable procedure. I disagree,” Bale wrote.

To join the class action, individuals who participated in the program can fill out a form on Cavalluzzo LLP’s website to determine their eligibility.