A Basic Income Guarantee (BIG) would be a universal, non-means tested government program, that would ensure everyone has a sufficient income to meet their basic needs. Undoubtedly, a BIG would have significant impacts on the health and wellbeing of Islanders- impacts that overlap many government portfolios. For example, a BIG would provide all workers with the freedom to engage in unpaid work in their homes and communities, to retrain or explore new employment or business ventures, and the safety net needed to stand up to unfair of unsafe workplace conditions.
In today’s increasingly precarious Canadian labour market, PEI has the second highest unemployment rate in the country and many workers are employed part time and/or seasonally. Nearly 23% of children in PEI experience food insecurity, and too many Islanders are regularly unable to make ends meet. Research has consistently shown that living in poverty makes people physically sick, and exacerbates mental health and addictions issues- all barriers to securing and maintaining employment.
It is clear that the Minister of Workforce and Advanced Learning should be actively supporting the promised but yet to be realized efforts to negotiate with the Federal government for a basic income pilot in PEI. However, to date the task has been left solely to the Department of Family and Human Services, and little progress has been made.
The recent announcement that the new PC Ontario government will be cancelling the Ontario BIG pilot is disheartening. Much like what happened with the Mincome experiment in the 1970s in Dauphin, Manitoba, a change of government has shut down a BIG pilot mid-point. The Federal government was waiting on the results of the Ontario pilot to inform next steps for BIG in Canada. However, much like the Mincome pilot, there won’t even be funding to analyze the data already gathered.
As Canada’s smallest province, and as a province whose government and opposition parties have already endorsed a BIG pilot for PEI, now is the time to renew our negotiations with the Federal government. It is my hope that the PEI government has already accepted the Federal government’s offer to share information and that all Ministers are committed to presenting a well developed BIG pilot proposal to the Federal Government.
Trish Altass is the Green Party of PEI's Shadow Critic for Workforce and Advanced Learning, and will be the candidate for the Green Party of PEI in District 23 Tyne Valley-Sherbrooke