I had the privilege of serving as minister of community and social services, and was notionally in charge of Ontario’s broken and Byzantine system of social assistance. One program for those with disabilities (ODSP) and one for those in dire straits with nowhere else to turn (Ontario Works).

As with every minister before me, I was charged with “fixing” social assistance. I was told that our programs were too expensive and did little to transform people’s lives. I attended countless briefings, met with a slew of stakeholders and received several expert reports. And, although there was much thoughtful work, the magic bullet never appeared. In fact, when I saw reports prepared for previous ministers, I discovered many of the same ideas repeated over and over again.

Why is reform so difficult?

Mainly because we can’t agree on the purpose of social assistance.

Cancelling the Basic Income Pilot Project is an outrageous mistake. I was in university when I got too sick to study or work. The Ontario Disability Support Program helped me survive — but only just.

Receiving a basic income turned my life around. I’ve left unhealthy housing, re-entered the workforce and started repaying debts and retraining. Basic income works.

It’s also essential in our automated, outsourced world of scarce employment. One universal basic income program would end poverty, reduce health-care spending and replace broken Ontario Works, Workplace Safety and Insurance Board and ODSP systems. It would save taxpayers billions. Conservatives like my local MPP Laurie Scott supported it before the provincial election.

Thousands of people participating in Ontario’s basic income pilot will receive their last payment on March 31, 2019, the province says, but an anti-poverty activist says the six-month wind down will still hurt many who were depending on the program.

After pulling the plug on the pilot last month, the Progressive Conservative government said Friday the final payments to the 4,000 low-income recipients in several cities will be made on that date.

While the word “populist” is bandied about to describe plain-talkin’, right-wing politicians, that description tarnishes the reputation of real 19th-century populists in the U.S. (and Canada) who actually championed the interests of ordinary folk over the wealthy elite. Pressure from populist ranks helped put in place the U.S. income tax in 1913, as a way to tax the rich.

Doug Ford is no more a populist than my grandmother was a stage-coach. Like Donald Trump, Ford got his start by inheriting wealth, and his policies favour the rich, not the poor.

We’ve just come through several decades where politicians talked a lot (while doing little) about rising inequality. Now, in Ontario, we’re back to a full-frontal embrace of inequality.

Feel like you’re seeing more people than ever who seem to be living on the streets of Niagara Falls?

Blame the summer, when homeless people don’t need to go indoors to escape the cold. And sometimes, people who look homeless aren’t.

But mostly, blame the shortage of affordable housing that’s putting stress on the support system and driving rents higher than many low-income earners can afford.

“It always boils down to housing,” said A.J. Heafey, a community outreach worker at the Niagara Falls Community Health Centre.

Richard Brown mentioned in his letter in the public forum on August 21, that 170 prominent Canadians and organizations headed by the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness, signed a letter calling on the federal government to make housing a fundamental human right in Canada.

The P.E.I. Coalition for a Poverty Eradication Strategy and Campaign 2000 were among the signers of that letter. It urged the Prime Minister to “make good his commitment to the right to housing by enshrining that right in upcoming National Housing Strategy legislation.” It is not enough for the Prime Minister to say that housing is a right. It must be enshrined in legislation. The Special Rapporteur to the United Nations on the Right to Housing, Emily Paradis also supported the request.

Walk down the main streets of any B.C. community today and you will see examples of poverty and homelessness.

While we all have a lot to say on the matter, little of that conversation is happening with children, who may not understand why someone would sleep in the streets, says Jillian Roberts, child psychologist and professor of educational psychology at the University of Victoria.

A published children’s author with the Just Enough series tackling difficult-to-discuss topics for preschoolers like death, reproduction, divorce, and prejudice, Roberts decided her next series should look at issues outside the home.