Ontario is set to introduce a universal income program targeting adults between the ages of 18 and 65 in the coming spring. It will be $1320 CAD a month for a single person and potentially more for those with disabilities. It is one among several minimum income programs that are being discussed around the world in countries such as Finland and India. While the idea of a universal income is old, it has gained a lot of recent attention as a possible efficient solution to addressing poverty and increasing employment.

It is important to continue to fund pilot programs like those in Ontario and Finland so we can learn more about the effects of basic income and how it can work to eliminate poverty. These experimental communities are not necessarily representative of larger, more diverse populations, but they are an important place to start. Ontario intends to implement programs in urban and rural communities, as well as among indigenous populations, which will provide a good basis for further research into the benefits and downsides of universal income. Canada may lead the way in the restructuring of welfare for a changing economy with basic income measures as the basis, providing greater financial security across the board.

Poverty is not cheap. It costs B.C. an estimated $9 billion each year.

It would take only two-thirds that amount to eliminate poverty by raising incomes, advocates say.

“Half of the poor in B.C. are either the working poor or the children of the working poor, so if we simply increase their wages, it would go a long way toward (eliminating poverty),” said Seth Klein, director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA). “In a society as wealthy as ours in B.C., with an annual GDP of about $250 billion, by what logic can’t we close a poverty gap of $6 billion?”

Leaving families mired in poverty is expensive. It typically leads to higher health care costs, a greater burden on the criminal justice system, lost productivity among women who can’t work, and lower income tax revenue to governments. Those costs adds up to between $8.1 billion and $9.2 billion each year in B.C., according to a 2011 study by the CCPA.

British Columbia’s indigenous kids are being removed from their homes and placed in care because of underfunding from both provincial and federal governments, says the province’s representative for children and youth.

Bernard Richard said current funding models mean agencies that support aboriginal families are unlikely to provide the same level of help compared with services at B.C.’s Ministry of Children and Family Development, resulting in a two-tiered system.

The province’s confusing funding arrangements with 23 agencies delegated to help indigenous families also result in inequitable services for children depending on where they live, he said Thursday after releasing a report on problems with service delivery.

The report quoted a ministry plan saying an indigenous child is nearly 17 times more likely to be in care compared with a non-indigenous child.

“The fact that 62 per cent of the kids in care are indigenous in a province where they represent less than 10 per cent of the child population is unacceptable,” Richard said.

Call it a lost decade for tens of thousands of British Columbians.

On April 1, 2007, welfare rates were last increased. Since then, a single person on basic income assistance has received $610 per month for all expenses, including housing. A single parent with one child has received $946 a month.

Each year, inflation has eroded the real value of a welfare cheque. While MLAs receive an automatic annual salary increase, the poorest British Columbians and their families have spent a decade falling farther behind, living on welfare benefits frozen at rates that were inadequate a decade ago.

There were hopes for an increase in this year’s budget, given the surplus and promises the B.C. government would share the benefits after years of belt-tightening.

But the government said no, and offered the lamest of excuses.

There is bitter irony in the fact that 10.9 per cent of people in ‘Ontario’s Garden’ and its neighbouring county are considered to be in marginal, moderate and severe food insecurity (FI), while 7.3 per cent are in moderate and severe FI. Although those numbers compare favourably to provincial averages of 8.7 per cent and 12.2 per cent, respectively, anything above zero is a concern.

“The problem isn’t a lack of food. It’s the lack of income,” said Molly Campbell, public health dietician with the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit’s community health team.

The issue is not limited to those on social assistance, Campbell clarified during her presentation to Norfolk County council on Tuesday, in response to a request from Coun. Mike Columbus to further explain a 58.9 per cent statistic related to those on low-paying or unstable job situations. The stat means, Campbell explained, that 58.9 per cent of those considered to be living in FI “are working.”

This year, the federal government plans to spend half a billion dollars on events marking Canada’s 150th anniversary, prompting a great deal of debate about its historical treatment of Indigenous peoples. The majority of Canadians don’t have all the facts about that, while First Nations continue to live the crisis-level effects of that legacy. Perhaps Canada should cancel its celebrations and undertake the hard work necessary to make amends.

“Indian policy” was based on acquiring Indigenous lands and resources and reducing financial obligations to Indigenous peoples. The primary methodology was either assimilation or elimination. These acts included confining Indigenous peoples to tiny reserves and forbidding them to hunt, fish or provide for their families, forcing them to live on unhealthy and insufficient rations that caused ill health and starvation.

It didn’t stop there. Other genocidal acts included the forced sterilization of Indigenous women and little girls and the mass theft from families of Indigenous children, many of whom were physically and sexually assaulted, experimented on, tortured and starved at residential schools – leading to the deaths of thousands.

This is how Canada cleared the land for farms, mining, oil extraction and development. It simply would not be the wealthy country it is, one of the best countries in the world to live and raise a family, were it not for the removal of Indigenous peoples from the source of Canada’s wealth.

When single mom Maureen O’Malley goes to the grocery store, she’s stuck with some difficult choices. Should she buy fresh fruit or chicken? Fresh produce or yogurt tubes for her kids?

“I’ve pretty much forgotten what organic is, which is too bad, because I’d love to maintain healthy diet choices for my kids. But it becomes more of what’s on sale, rather than what I’d prefer to buy for them,” O’Malley said. “I shop very frugally and our diet is starting to show — we eat way too much rice and pasta.”

O’Malley says food often comes last, after all the other bills are paid. When she does shop for food, she always has to compromise.

“I swallowed my pride and went to the food bank,” said O’Malley, who has been using the Port Coquitlam location for only a few months.

O’Malley appreciates the help from the food bank, but said it takes several hours because there are so many people in line. Her number for the week when she was interviewed for this story was 158.