Perhaps it was the season, or the fact that the fall sitting was drawing to a close, or maybe MLA’s had just grown weary of engaging in the kind of rancorous debate that had characterized the previous few weeks in the House. Or, perhaps it was simply because basic income guarantee is an idea whose time has come. But for whatever reason last December, in a show of unity members from all three parties represented in the Legislature rose to express their support for a Basic Income Guarantee pilot project for PEI. It was a pleasant surprise for supporters of Basic Income Guarantee in PEI and across the country.
Motion #83, put forward by Green Party Leader Peter Bevan Baker, called on the Legislative Assembly to “urge government to pursue a partnership with the federal government for the establishment of a universal basic income pilot project in Prince Edward Island”. It received unanimous support. Several MLAs from each party spoke in its favour, their comments revealing their acute awareness of the extent and the impacts of poverty in PEI, and their desire to find a solution.
The adoption of the motion, and most especially the positive manner in which it was received, gave new hope to the community organizers who have been promoting basic income and asking for a made-in-PEI pilot project for the past several years.
The idea of working with the federal government, which several of the MLAs spoke about, is of critical importance. BIG would require a substantial reorganization of existing federal and provincial programs, and would in all likelihood be administered through the federal tax system. Community activists have been consistent in stating very clearly that a BIG pilot project must be a collaborative effort among all levels of government.
As several MLAs also noted, Prince Edward Island is a perfect jurisdiction to test this idea – our size, and the fact that we are an Island with a fairly mixed economy, make it an ideal place to test BIG. At the same time, we will be watching and learning as other pilot projects roll out in Ontario and Quebec.
Several MLAs pointed out, rightly, that implementing a Basic Income would not negate the need for current social programs and services designed to support individuals and families. We would still need to invest in (and in fact increase our investment in) affordable housing, accessible childcare, public transportation and disability supports. Workers must be paid a living wage, and have access to Employment Insurance and adequate pensions. These are all things that are part of our social infrastructure and fundamental to the kind of healthy, inclusive and socially just communities we dream of.
It was especially encouraging to hear MLAs say that planning for a pilot project should not be seen as strictly a government task, rather, it should be an inclusive process, involving people from the community, people affected by poverty and their advocates. After several years of research and community engagement, the Working Group for a Livable Income is eager to continue this work with government and to participate in the design a program that works for Prince Edward Island.
In his introduction to the motion, Peter Bevan-Baker talked about how universal basic income could “enable the greatest unleashing of human potential ever seen” and allow people to be creative and to take risks, secure in the knowledge that they have a roof over their heads and enough food to meet their needs. This is in fact what is so compelling about BIG – it is about dignity and equality, building communities where everyone is valued and gets to participate.
Ann Wheatley represents Cooper Institute in the PEI Working Group for a Livable Income