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Doug Ford government to pay $320K in legal fees to basic income class action

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The Ontario government has agreed to pay $320,000 in legal fees to a class action seeking $200 million in damages for the early termination of a basic income pilot project.

The 4,000 members involved argue the cancellation of a government-run basic income program equates to a breach of contract.

“Today, we're calling on Ontario to stop spending taxpayer money, $320,000 in costs to lawyers is the latest, and resolve this matter fairly and with justice,” Stephen Moreau, Cavalluzzo LLP partner and lead counsel of the class action, said at a news conference on Monday.

The government fought to prevent the class action from going forward – and as a result they are now paying $320,000 for the legal fees spent over the last five years.

The legal action, which was certified last month, was pursued in response to the early cancellation of a three-year basic income pilot for low-income earners in Hamilton, Lindsay, and Thunder Bay, launched in 2017. The goal of the research study was to determine if the government should consider introducing a fixed income.

The 6,000 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.”

'Devastating'

Jess Golem, one of the pilot participants, called the cancellation devastating.

Prior to joining the basic income program, Golem said she was working several contract jobs while recovering from a financially-abusive relationship. She explained how she was exhausted and constantly working, yet barely able to afford the cost of living.

“The income floor enabled me to feel secure enough to take a risk in starting a business while knowing that my basic needs would be covered,” Golem said on Monday.

“I actually predicted that if the basic income pilot had continued, I would only have been on the pilot for two out of the three years it was supposed to run because my business would have been making enough money that I would no longer been eligible to be on the pilot.”

However, the program was cancelled, pulling Golem into poverty.

“This sort of government needs to be held accountable for the promise that they have broken, for the lives that they've carelessly thrown into disarray, and the permanent damage they have caused by breaking their contract with us and prematurely canceling the basic income.” 

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