Four parties took the stage in Manitoba to debate disability issues and all but one pitched some form of basic income

Ian Froese, CBC News

Manitoba’s Progressive Conservatives wouldn’t commit to a guaranteed basic income for people living with disabilities like their political opponents did at a debate on Tuesday, but said they would develop a new income model to lift people out of poverty.

Otherwise, few wedge issues materialized to separate the four parties at the debate, organized by Disability Matters Vote — a non-partisan public awareness campaign which aims to promote focus on disability issues ahead of the Sept. 10 Manitoba election. Around 275,000 Manitobans live with a disability, according to Disability Matters.

The Tories, NDP, Liberals and Greens all pledged to offer more supports for people who live with disabilities and those who care for them.

Green Party Leader James Beddome tried several times to press Heather Stefanson, the PC representative and current families minister, to commit to a universal income rate, but she deflected.

Instead, Stefanson offered several new pledges in front of a packed conference room at the Norwood Hotel, including a commitment to move Manitobans off of employment income assistance and create an alternative, higher-income program instead.

EIA stigma

The Tories would also work with experts to ensure the rest of the Accessibility for Manitobans Act, which outlines ways to remove barriers for people with disabilities, is implemented by 2020, Stefanson said.

Following the debate, she said her party has heard there’s a stigma among people with disabilities to being on EIA. If re-elected, the PCs would determine the right income level in consultation with the disability community, she said.

“We’ve spoken to people within the communities who want to be out actively working,” Stefanson said. “They don’t want to be at home on an employment and income assistance program.”

Two weeks before election day, all of the representatives at Tuesday’s debate said a vote for their party would ensure more employment supports for people with disabilities and higher wages for the professionals who care for them.

All four parties also promised to publicly report the wait times for people requiring disability services.

Every seat was taken at a conference room at the Norwood Hotel for a provincial election debate specifically focused on disability issues. (Ian Froese/CBC)

Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said the Progressive Conservatives did not do enough in their three years in government.

He noted many basic income supports haven’t increased since the early 1990s.

“We need to act on it immediately and not just have more studies,” Lamont said, arguing his party’s guaranteed income in the neighbourhood of $18,000 to $19,000 annually would ensure people with disabilities are lifted out of poverty.

Exceptional needs

NDP Leader Wab Kinew said a government under his party would gradually boost the minimum wage to $15 an hour and tie it to a living wage going forward.

The NDP would also transform the employment income assistance system toward a basic income model, he said, and eliminate the clawback people on EIA receive on their benefits if they find work.

“Sometimes, exceptional people have exceptional needs and that’s what this campaign is all about realizing — building a Manitoba that is there for all of us,”

said Kinew, who routinely drew the loudest cheers from the crowd.

Beddome called the EIA model a “shame-based system” in need of reform. The Green Party would also implement a universal basic income if ushered into power, he said.

The debate was held in a conference room with more than 300 people in seats and wheelchairs. An overflow crowd watched a live stream of the debate at a nearby legion, and viewing events were also held in 10 different communities across the province.

Allen Mankewich, an accessibility advocate in Winnipeg, said the actions of the politicians who participated in the debate will matter more than words.

“The only thing that matters to me, and I think a lot of people in the disability community, is what happens after Sept. 10.”

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