Premier Kathleen Wynne gave the following speech today in Hamilton about government’s responsibility to have a plan that creates fairness and security for people in a changing economy, in which the Premier also announced the launch of Ontario’s Basic Income Pilot:*
“Thank you all for being here.
I want to begin today by showing my respect for the contributions of Indigenous peoples and recognizing the role of treaty-making in what is now Ontario. For generations, this land has been home to peoples of Turtle Island. The first treaties were signed long before Confederation. Today, 150 years later, the treaties are still relevant to our lives, and I want to just acknowledge that as we’re gathered here today.
I spent some time in Ottawa last week. I was at the Carlingwood mall in the west end of town — meeting and talking to people with Bob Chiarelli, the local MPP. We were in a little food court, just across from the Tim Hortons. It was an older crowd. A lot of seniors from the neighbourhood gather there for coffee and conversation, and you can take it from me — very few of them were shy about sharing their opinions. Not many of them are on Twitter, but I think they’d fit right in.
As we moved along the mall, I spotted a young woman sitting alone. She looked a little down and, frankly, she probably wasn’t much in the mood to chat. But I went up to her anyway. It turned out she had just lost her job. She had worked at one of the stores in the mall, and now she was out of work. Of course, that’s not an unusual thing to happen in a young person’s life.
But what struck me was this: she was so worried about finding another job. She seemed lost.
Everything’s so up in the air these days, she said. That is a feeling that a lot of people can relate to — and not only those who are just starting out in life. People are anxious about their jobs and their futures. They are worried about the soaring cost of renting or buying a place to live.
Many are concerned about the world that awaits their children — a world of global competition, reduced benefits and more and more part-time employment. They fear that the future will be less fair to those who don’t start out wealthy.
I can tell you that is different than when I was growing up — there was much more of a sense of optimism. One income used to be enough for most families. Now, even with two people working, it is tough to save. Tough to feel as though you are getting ahead. Tough to feel confident that your job will still be yours — or even still be around — in 10 years, or five, or even less.
This is a new world with new challenges. In this new world, our plan to date as a government has been straightforward: get the fundamentals right by reducing the deficit, supporting new jobs, focusing on economic growth, and investing in those priorities that can have the most impact. That has meant investments in health, education and infrastructure — new schools, new hospitals, new transit, roads and bridges.
We have worked to make Ontario the kind of place that attracts investment, creates opportunity and generates good jobs that pay well. The evidence tells us we are making progress: lower unemployment, more jobs, the best economic growth in the country and a budget that is coming into balance.
But we know that this is not the whole picture. There is more to it. There are new forces in play and new challenges upon us. It is one thing to say we are doing better than other provinces or states, which in many cases we are. It is another to say everything is fine, because for many that just isn’t true. We are being tested in new and unique ways. Technological progress and automation are creating new industries. But they are also bringing new pressures — and putting existing jobs at risk.
Ontario businesses have never been better at creating wealth. But ensuring those benefits are shared widely and fairly seems to be getting more difficult. Then there is the role of trade and — let’s face it — the question mark that is the Trump presidency.
We know that trade is essential to the economic prosperity of Ontario and of Canada. But in the U.S., there is a growing instinct to embrace protectionist policies — even when the evidence shows that Americans actually benefit from their trade relationships and agreements.
In the midst of this uncertainty, we have to work to support and defend our people as best we can. We must stand up for our farmers and our manufacturers, for companies and workers in the auto industry and the forest industry.
We are entering a new and very different era. From technology to Trump, it is a time of greater uncertainty and change. I believe that government has a responsibility to respond. To step up. To protect the wages and the well-being of our people by continuing to be bold, and active, and inventive. Not active for the sake of it. But active with a clear purpose, a clear goal: ensuring fairness and creating security.
In this time of turmoil, we must work harder than ever to build and preserve a fair society. We must make sure that hard work is rewarded with a decent paycheque. We must make sure that the opportunities available to our people — and especially our young people — not only endure, but grow.
We’re in a good position to do this. Our budget is back in balance. We have spent years building new roads and schools and hospitals and transit. More people are at work in Ontario than ever before. We are prepared for this moment. We have the freedom and the flexibility to respond to these new challenges.
So we must make the right choices now to support the people of Ontario as we all navigate this turbulence — and set our province on a course toward long-term success. We cannot be idle or complacent. We cannot simply assume that President Trump will do the right thing or make the right choices. We cannot simply assume that the jobs of tomorrow will be available to Ontarians. Government must have a plan. And to be Premier of this province, you must have a plan.
Now, there are some who look at this new world and say that government should just step back and stay out of it. Let the market sort it out. Their idea of a solution is to cut back on public services, reduce taxes, slash regulations on corporations and let the results trickle down. Eventually. Maybe. In that kind of future, some would do very well — especially those who were already doing pretty well to begin with. But for those who didn’t start with that advantage, and for those who are working harder than ever to make ends meet, well, tough luck.
That is one path. That is one way to go. But that is not my way — and it never will be.
That approach does not speak to my values, the values we share — a belief in fairness and equality of opportunity. It does not address the struggles of people across our province — their frustration at working long hours and still barely getting by. The way too many people speak of the years ahead with concern and trepidation, rather than with hope.
I believe it is the responsibility of government to take a stand, play a role and do what it can — do all it can — to ensure that the people of Ontario are given every chance to thrive and achieve their potential during this period of change. My plan builds on the action we have taken and the investments we have made over the past five years. It takes dead aim at the challenges that confront us in this new, uncertain world. It puts fairness at the heart of all we do — and all we aspire to achieve for the people of Ontario.
Our plan has three main elements. First, we must do more than simply protect people’s wages and their ability to earn a good living. We must work to create a fair economy that provides opportunity and security for everyone. It means helping rural and suburban communities get the support they need, as well as our big centres. It means affordable housing, rental units and a real estate market that people can participate in, which is why last week we announced our new Fair Housing Plan — to make renting or buying a home more affordable in this province. It means fair workplaces with decent benefits — workplaces where employers meet their obligations to their workers. And it means good pensions.
As a government, we led the way nationally on pension reform. We fought hard for better pensions — to ensure that our workers can retire with security. We never gave up. And together with the federal government and our provincial colleagues, we got it done. The improved Canada Pension Plan will pay out more in benefits for a lifetime of hard work. That will mean a better retirement for the people of Ontario. This is the power of government to make a difference when it has a clear plan for the future.
The second element of our plan is building a fair future for Ontario workers. An economy where we are creating and attracting the jobs of tomorrow and the investment and industries that go with them. If innovation is going to be the engine of future jobs and growth, then we must cultivate these new industries here in Ontario and draw more innovative businesses to join in what we’re building. We have done the hard work of getting the fundamentals right — now let’s build on that and make a good thing better.
Third, we must place a tireless and far-reaching focus on education — to give everyone in Ontario a fair start. In our changing world, there is no such thing as a sure thing. But we improve our chances of success when more of our people get a good start in life and are able to pursue their education without barrier. That is why we are creating 100,000 new spaces in child care. And that is why we are making advanced education more accessible and affordable — so all students have the opportunity to fulfill their dreams.
Think about the difference this will make. This fall, tuition is going to be absolutely free for 210,000 students. Others from middle-class homes will have much lower levels of student debt — and a better start in their adult lives. Over the next three years, our Career Kickstart program will offer 40,000 more Ontario students access to the kind of work experience that will give them that much-needed first line on their resume.
Think about the potential we are unleashing with this investment in our shared future. Think about the anxiety we are lifting from so many students and setting them up to get a good job.
These are the kind of ideas we need right now — bold and unafraid, ideas that will make a meaningful difference in people’s lives, and in our shared success. Ideas that will actively confront and diminish the uncertainty of this new era. We have an opportunity before us, and we cannot afford to wait.
In the days and weeks and months to come, our government will reveal more details of our plan. We will lay out how these policies will help our people and our province confront the challenges of today and tomorrow. Just as we did with pension reform, we will be focused on providing help in areas where employers have withdrawn from their traditional role.
We will be looking at the challenges faced by those who are supporting a family while working at a minimum-wage job. At a time when more companies are choosing to create more part-time and contract jobs, we will be working to ensure those workers are treated fairly. And we will be exploring how we can further support workers in an era where jobs no longer last a lifetime — and sometimes fail to deliver even basic benefits.
As a province, we are a leader in job creation. We are proud of that. But the changing nature of work is leaving some people vulnerable. They are working contract to contract, or otherwise dealing with an unstable or precarious employment. They can be let go with no warning. As a result, some can slip into poverty.
Now, what is the best way to help people manage or endure this uncertainty — and give them the opportunity to succeed over the long term? Is it our current system of social assistance? Or is there a better way?
For months, we have been doing the background work to explore the idea of a basic income. And today, I’m pleased to announce the details of Ontario’s Basic Income Pilot that we will be launching here in the Hamilton area — and in two other Ontario communities: Lindsay and the Thunder Bay area. The project will explore the effectiveness of providing a basic income to people who are currently living on low incomes, whether they are working or not.
People participating in our pilot communities will receive a minimum amount of income each year — a basic income, no matter what.
It’s not an extravagant sum by any means. For a single person, we are talking about just under $17,000 a year. But even that amount may make a real difference to someone who is striving to reach for a better life. It says to them: government is with you. The people of Ontario are with you. We are here to help you through the hard times as you get back on your feet.
We are starting small — a three-year project in these selected communities to start. But our goal is clear: we want to find out whether a basic income makes a positive difference in people’s lives — whether this new approach gives them the ability to begin to achieve their potential. And whether it is an approach that deserves to be adopted across our province as a whole.
The Finance Minister will deliver our new budget in three days’ time. A balanced budget will serve as a solid foundation and a starting point for what comes next. It will give us the ability to make choices. It will allow us the freedom to invest smartly and effectively in our people and our province. You will see us investing in our priorities — in health care, in education and in those initiatives that make life more affordable for Ontario families. And in the months to follow, we will build on that foundation.
Yes, our economic indicators are positive and pointing in the right direction. That is important. And yes, we are confident in Ontario’s ability to do even better in the future — better in Canada and better in the world. But we need to ensure that all Ontarians see themselves — their hopes and dreams — reflected in the choices we are making.
We need to address the concerns of those who worry about falling behind, even as they work so hard to get ahead. We need to create the kinds of opportunities that will allow that young woman I met in Ottawa to feel confident about her future prospects.
From my very first moments as Premier, standing before the people of our province, I have been very clear that I believe government can be a force for good. With a clear, targeted and responsible plan, we can make a positive difference in people’s lives. Today, there is a place for government — a need for government — to stand up and play an active role in building a fair society where there is more opportunity for everyone, and more security too.
This is no time to retreat. This is no time for government to cling to the status quo or step away from its responsibilities. This is the time for us to be focused and fair. To be bold. To not simply describe and reassert our values, but to defend them and act on them. This is the time to bring forward a clear plan that helps the most vulnerable and works for all.
We can do this — but only together. So this is the time to work together toward a better way, a better life and a better future. Thank you.”