Basic Income Guarantee: Let’s just do it

The PEI Working Group for a Livable Income welcomes the recent motion #36 passed in the PEI Legislature, putting Basic Income Guarantee back on the PEI Government’s agenda. 

This effort should produce more than just another report collecting dust. For this to be progress the proposed Special Committee of the Legislature must see their mandate as the creation of a Basic Income Guarantee program for Prince Edward Island. Otherwise their December, 2019 report could be a rehashing of recommendations which the Working Group for a Livable Income has presented many times to former governments. At the passing of Motion #36, the Honourable Ernie Hudson emphasized that a lot of work has already been done on poverty in PEI. He seemed to refer only to work for the 2018 Poverty Reduction Strategy rather than that already done on Basic Income Guarantee.

We believe that the work on BIG must include a statement of principles, such as that developed for PEI by our Working Group in consultation with the community. At this stage we expect a viable design for BIG in PEI as a federal- provincial policy and program. PEI is ready to identify preliminary goals, objectives, proposed success indicators and costs. 

To clarify: The PEI Working Group for a Livable Income no longer uses the term “pilot”, but rather “policies and programs”.  This corresponds to a consensus growing across the country among BIG researchers that the time for experiments is over.

Dr. Evelyn Forget, internationally known author and expert on Basic Income Guarantee, confirms that there is enough evidence to support moving forward with the implementation of Basic Income Guarantee for Canada. This does not preclude beginning BIG in PEI as soon as possible to take advantage of learning how it can work within the various provincial and territorial jurisdictions. PEI has all the components of a full-fledged provincial jurisdiction while small enough to work out the policy and programming kinks to perfect the system for the rest of Canada. Dr Forget recently spent five days in PEI and met with a wide range of people including politicians from all four political parties.

After researching the outcomes of BIG worldwide and especially in Canada (Manitoba Mincome of the 1970s and the Ontario Pilot of 2017), Dr. Forget’s studies confirm the findings of other BIG projects that Basic Income Guarantee results in: improved health of the participants; encouragement to continue education and training; incentives to find paid employment; involvement in the community; and improved well-being of children.

The PEI Working Group insists that BIG in Canada must be based on a comprehensive Federal-Provincial agreement, not a mere jumble of multiple bilateral arrangements. It is imperative that no province or territory sets out its BIG policies and programs independent of the other jurisdictions. It is not just a matter of the need for cost sharing as it relates to the so-called “have-not” provinces, but of strengthening the federation. 

The PEI group keeps contact especially with the Kingston group for BIG. In their recent newsletter,  they say: The challenge in Canada is not whether to provide more evidence that BI works, but rather to figure out how to design one effectively for this country. Our federal system makes it complex… the sheer size of the country with its many different challenges adds another complexity. Rather than another pilot we prefer to see the beginning of…a program, starting for example with one province – PEI would be a good (choice)”. The Kingston group through their MP , made this proposal known to the Honourable Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Families, Children, and Social Development (December 21, 2018). This was strongly supported by the Honourable Wayne Easter, MP for Malpeque. (January 15, 2019). 

Another encouraging development is the federal government’s commissioned study of precarious work. The report on this study (June, 2019) by the Standing  Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development Canada made the following recommendation: “That Employment and Social Development Canada study forms of  income support, such as a guaranteed annual income or other transfer programs, that are not tied to employment”. 

The PEI working group for a Livable Income is hopeful that legislators will respond to the challenge and set up a federal-provincial policy and program for Basic Income Guarantee in PEI by the end of 2019.

Marie Burge represents Cooper Institute on the PEI Working Group for a Livable Income.

Published in The Guardian 18 July, 2019.

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