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Q&A: Jayne Cardno, one of over 4,000 people being kicked out of Ontario’s basic income program by Doug Ford

Q&A: Jayne Cardno, one of over 4,000 people being kicked out of Ontario's basic income program by Doug Ford

Jayne Cardno is 60, with a PhD and a part-time job at a flower shop in Hamilton. She’s also one of approximately 4,000 Ontarians participating in the province’s basic income pilot project, implemented by ex-premier Kathleen Wynne’s government in 2017. The program offers individual low-income recipients up to $16,989 per year from provincial coffers without many of the strict conditions that come with traditional government welfare programs, like Ontario Works. The basic income pilot was originally envisioned as a three-year experiment, to allow Queen’s Park to gather data on the results.

But the pilot won’t last for three years. Shortly after Doug Ford became premier, his government announced that they would be cancelling basic income. The program’s supporters and enrolees were blindsided: during the campaign, one of Ford’s spokespeople had said that the program would be preserved. Now, Cardno, like other basic income recipients, is suddenly unsure of her financial future. She spoke with us about her journey from higher education to precarious housing, and about how basic income was making a difference.

Tell me a little bit about your upbringing. I grew up in a middle-class home. My mother was the first in her family to earn a degree, in public health nursing. She was widowed very young, with two young children, and she went back to work and became incredibly successful. She rose to an executive level in healthcare and then spent 15 years in municipal politics. In high school I was determined to have a career, and it wasn’t going to be an ordinary one. I got my college diploma in the museum field, but pretty soon I realized that people with university degrees were getting all the jobs. I went back and got my B.A. Then I went back to school to do a masters degree in the health field. That’s what led me to my PhD.

So far this isn’t lining up with what people might think of as a typical poverty narrative. That’s right. In 2009, I was presenting at the World Health Congress in Belgium on research I had done relating to a faculty of medicine out west. Two years later, I’m living in a precarious rooming house, applying for Ontario Works. After the economic collapse, jobs in my field were even harder to come by. I had a contract end, a research group was disbanded. There were complications, because I was diagnosed with degenerative dystrophy, which usually affects much older people. Chronic pain became a significant factor in my day-to-day life, but for a long time it wasn’t enough to qualify for disability.

So you were still looking for work? I was. I was sending out resumes. I couldn’t afford internet access or a phone. At one point, I got a job offer to teach one course in Brantford, but by this time I had lost my vehicle, and getting out there was going to be an issue. I wanted to take the job, but when I broke down the financial aspects and the fact that the Ontario Works program would be clawing back half of what I earned, it just wasn’t feasible.

And then you found out about the chance to be part of the basic income pilot. What were your thoughts at the time? I have to say I was pretty worn down by the system and pretty skeptical at first. And then I started pushing for other people to get on it. I’m 60 years old now. I was thinking about the 43-year-old with a college degree who is unable to find work. I harassed, even begged people I know to sign up. And now I feel guilt that they only got a few months.

What can you tell us about those few months? Was the program working? I was on it for seven months, and I couldn’t have been happier. I could pay my student loans, clear my debt load going into retirement. I was working on starting a small business. I was even able to buy some extras.

When you say “extras,” what are you talking about? It’s shoes that help me walk without pain. It’s winter boots that won’t fall apart in the snow. It’s a good winter coat. You want to buy things that won’t fall apart, and you can’t do that on Ontario Works. But really, the best part of the basic income project was that, for the first time, I saw that people were listening to our stories. We’ve had blame and shame for decades. In the past, when I would mention poverty, people would shut down or feel like it can’t possibly be that bad. It felt like people were finally getting it: that poverty is not all mental health or addiction or lack of education. And it’s not people lying around because they don’t want to work. If you can’t pay your rent every month, how can you search for a job? Get work? Keep work? I heard about a guy who got a job and then couldn’t afford the bus fare to get there before his first paycheque.

Where were you when you learned the pilot had been cancelled? I sit on a committee at Hamilton City Hall. I came out of that and noticed that I’d missed several calls from a friend. I knew it was bad news. I was shocked.

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You said the basic income pilot made you feel like people actually cared. How does the cancellation make you feel? It tells me that this government doesn’t have any interest in helping those who are low income. They think there are all of these low-skilled, low-wage jobs out there that anyone can and must take. It’s extremely short sighted. Labour jobs are being automated, and there is no plan. I’m in a better situation than a lot of people. I have to find a way to survive until I get a pension. It’s sad because I always thought I would delay my pension. I want to be able to use my education.

If you had a minute with Premier Ford, what would you tell him? I would tell him that if you don’t look after the most vulnerable people in your community, everyone pays a great cost. Those costs may be hidden in policing and healthcare services and subsidized housing. I would tell him we all want to do work that is well paid and meaningful. And I would tell him, don’t dash people’s hopes. For people living in poverty, hope may be all they have.

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