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Basic Income Guarantee - Let's Just Do It

Op-Ed by Marie Burge

Thursday, August 15, 2019

This is the second of a two-part series that identifies the many new conclusions about Basic Income Guarantee from experiments and pilots around the world and in Canada with special emphasis on the implications for P.E.I.

The P.E.I. Working Group for a Livable Income welcomes the recent motion No. 36 passed in the P.E.I. legislature, putting Basic Income Guarantee back on the 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 has presented many times to former governments. At the passing of motion No. 36, Social Housing and Development Minister Ernie Hudson emphasized that a lot of work has already been done on poverty in P.E.I. 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 Basic Income Guarantee must include a statement of principles, such as that developed for P.E.I. by our working group in consultation with the community.

At this stage, we expect a viable design for Basic Income Guarantee in P.E.I. as a federal-provincial policy and program. P.E.I. is ready to identify preliminary goals, objectives, proposed success indicators and costs.

To clarify, The P.E.I. 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 Basic Income Guarantee 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 Basic Income Guarantee in P.E.I. as soon as possible to take advantage of learning how it can work within the various provincial and territorial jurisdictions. P.E.I. 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 P.E.I. and met with a wide range of people, including politicians from all four political parties. After researching the outcomes of Basic Income Guarantee worldwide and especially in Canada (Manitoba Mincom of the 1970s and the Ontario Pilot of 2017), Dr. Forget’s studies confirm the findings of other 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 wellbeing of children.

The P.E.I. Working Group insists that Basic Income Guarantee in Canada must be based on a comprehensive federalprovincial agreement, not a mere jumble of multiple bilateral arrangements. It is imperative that no province or territory sets out its Basic Income Guarantee 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 P.E.I. Working Group keeps contact, especially with the Kingston group for Basic Income Guarantee. 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 – P.E.I. would be a good (choice).” The Kingston group, through their Member of Parliament, made this proposal known to Jean-Yves Duclos, minister of Families, Children, and Social Development (Dec. 21, 2018). This was strongly supported by Malpeque MP Wayne Easter (Jan. 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 P.E.I. 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 P.E.I. by the end of 2019.

Marie Burge is with Cooper Institute, one of the organizations belonging to the P.E.I. Working Group for a Livable Income founded in 2003. 

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