The P.E.I. Legislature agreed unanimously Tuesday to have the province work with the federal government in hopes of setting up a basic-income pilot project on the Island.
The idea is to guarantee a minimum amount of money in government support each month to those living in poverty.
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Green Party Leader Peter Bevan-Baker put forward the motion, which was supported by all parties.
Bevan-Baker said a successful pilot project could reduce poverty, improve health and mental health, increase educational attainment, reduce crime and act as a response to increased automation and outsourcing.
“A universal basic income could enable the greatest unleashing of human potential ever seen,” he said.
He noted that there was an experiment with basic income in Dauphin, Man., 40 years ago and that Quebec and Ontario are moving in the same direction as P.E.I.
P.E.I. ideal for pilot projects
“We would not be entering this blind,” he said. “There is previous research and analysis to inform our efforts.”
He said P.E.I.’s small size and clear boundaries make it the ideal spot for pilot projects that explore social issues.
Bevan-Baker said two possible drawbacks of a guaranteed income are the overall costs and whether it will keep people from looking for work.
“This is exactly why we need a pilot project — so we can evaluate whether the benefits outweigh the costs.”
Cash level is key
Several Progressive Conservative MLAs said the proposal is in line with their party’s values, including its potential to reduce red tape.
“The key to making universal basic-income programs successful is the level at which the basic income is set,” said Brad Trivers, PC MLA for Rustico-Emerald. “Because it has to be enough so that people are not living in poverty, but it can’t take away the incentive to go out and work.”
PC Leader Jamie Fox said one can’t underestimate the levels of poverty in P.E.I.
“I think any program like this where we can try to better the lives of Islanders and their families and continue that on to the national stage is an asset to us.”
Not set in stone yet
Charlottetown-Brighton MLA Jordan Brown, a Liberal, said a guaranteed basic income would lead to success stories.
“People that are taken out of poverty or given a means by which they can survive and really thrive in life tend to move on to do great things in life and really focus on the things they want to do,” he said.
Passing the motion is just a starting point. The government would have to work out a partnership with the federal government in order to make the idea a reality.