By: Marie Burge
Never before has the need for a basic income for Canadians been more urgent, and never before has the reality been in such close grasp. A proposal for a guaranteed basic income (GBI), known in P.E.I. as basic income guarantee (BIG), is now at an advanced stage. The authors of the P.E.I. basic income implementation proposal for the P.E.I. basic income program are at the cusp of putting this model into the hands of the province of Prince Edward Island in order to move towards negotiations with the federal government.
The transferal of this report will set off a dynamic process in which officials of both governments will meet at the same table to begin, in earnest, to design next steps for concrete action on basic income.
No official government body commissioned the development of this proposal. (That saved a bunch of public money!). However, I am making a well-justified claim that it was, in fact, commissioned by the people of Prince Edward Island.
The initiative and the inspiration for the development of basic income in P.E.I. comes from the P.E.I. community which, now for almost 20 years, has kept alive the aspiration, the hope, that it is possible to eliminate poverty in this territory. In P.E.I. the spirit of basic income comes from the people and was captured and articulated by an NGO, a civil society organization – the P.E.I. Working Group for Livable Income (WGLI).
We are proud of the engagement of Island politicians who were willing to consider alternatives. When after a number of discussions and two unanimous votes around basic income in the legislature, the legislative assembly of Prince Edward Island commissioned the special committee on poverty in P.E.I. to do its work. Then the assembly voted unanimously once again to approve the recommendation of the special committee to establish a full-fledged basic income program in P.E.I. Most astoundingly, the essential principles of basic income established by the WGLI were accepted and endorsed.
It is important to note that from that point the language began to develop and solidify around P.E.I. as an ideal launching place for basic income in Canada. The feasibility of a five- or seven-year demonstration program, Island-wide and inclusive, fully funded (federal-provincial), independent from attachment to the work force and accessible to all who need to be brought up to the official “poverty line” became real. We continue to insist that basic income is not solely about poverty: it is an investment in people, in the economy, and in the health, well being, and democratic engagement of the population.
From Day 1, the community and policy makers struggled with what basic income would look like on the ground, its implementation challenges, and of course how to pay for it. We have said from the beginning that basic income is not revenue neutral. It will cost. It will also save. And the costs are well-justified by the benefits.
It is not often that P.E.I. attracts the attention of groups across the country. But that happened in 2019 when P.E.I.’s initiative, in the community and in the legislature, inspired the Kingston Action Group for Basic Income Guarantee in the person of Toni Pickard. And that is how Coalition Canada basic income – revenu de base came to be. It now has representatives from 10 provinces and two territories. Its vision for basic income is pan-Canadian, with on-going support for establishment of the P.E.I. basic income demonstration program. Out of Coalition Canada grew a massive production of the cases for basic income designed by, and with, the first voices and their allies in many academic fields as well as a whole range of studies and submissions. Not to mention the number of sectors from health, religious and the Senate which were inspired to speak out in favour of basic income for Canada. This national work also resulted in the formation of two new organizations, Basic Income Canada Youth Network and Basic Income NOW Atlantic.
From the very beginning in P.E.I. we, in the community and in the public sector struggled with how could basic income best be presented to the federal government. The premier was commissioned by the P.E.I. legislature to bring that forward.
So, we are in late 2022, after untold commitment and volunteer work of a team of professionals: eight economists; five politicians from five political parties; bureaucrats; and civil society advocates. Toni Pickard of Kingston co-ordinated the work of the economists. Barbara Boraks of Toronto co-ordinated the engagement of the politicians.
We have a model, not perfect for sure, for the implementation of a P.E.I. demonstration program. It merely shows a reasonable level of economic feasibility and sturdy grounds for federal-provincial dialogue.
Guaranteed basic income is a program by which we can eliminate poverty, being universally accessible to those who need to have their income brought up to the official “poverty line”. GBI as a poverty eliminator affects the lives of millions of people in Canada and a large percentage of the population of Prince Edward Island. Families living in impoverished situations will find their lives radically transformed for the better. But GBI has a wider societal impact. This program promises to better the lives of the majority of people in society. As it is primarily an investment in people, it contributes to economic growth, improves the health, self-esteem, and well being of the community as a whole and it encourages the increased democratic engagement of the population. There is something in GBI for everybody.
We say to the province of Prince Edward Island and to the government of Canada: “We are handing you a gift.” We want you to take it in good faith and get your provincial-federal conversation going in the best and most effective way you know. We ask you to honour our proposal for a guaranteed basic income benefit for Prince Edward Island. You do this by being open to the possibilities and being sincerely committed to collaborative efforts to overcome any obstacles in the path to implementation. If government is to be truly “all about the people”, it must be about all people.
Marie Burge works with Cooper Institute, a member of the P.E.I. Working Group for a Livable Income since 2003, Coalition Canada basic income – revenu de base, founded in 2019, and Basic Income NOW, Atlantic Canada, organized in 2021.