Efforts to bring basic income pilot to P.E.I. 'a failure,' group says

One of the community groups advocating for a basic income guarantee on P.E.I. is citing a lack of progress or commitment from government in working to develop a pilot project for the province.

Lack of progress feels like 'bad faith' with the people of P.E.I., according to Cooper Institute

Marie Burge with P.E.I.'s Cooper Institute is citing the province's 'failure' to live up to a commitment to pursue a pilot project for a basic income guarantee with Ottawa. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

At a conference last month in Hamilton, Ont. proponents from across North America got together to talk about efforts to implement a basic income guarantee in jurisdictions in Canada and the U.S.

Marie Burge of P.E.I.'s Cooper Institute provided an update in terms of her province's progress toward a basic income pilot project.

"One of the points that I made — it's a failure for P.E.I.," Burge said. "The government so easily backed down. I think they were sincere in the beginning, and I still think they're sincere. But they backed down as soon as the feds said, 'we're not providing support for this.'"

Motion had unanimous support

It's been more than a year since all three parties in the legislature provided unanimous support for a motion urging the province to partner with the federal government to develop a basic income pilot project for P.E.I.

The response from the federal Minister of Families, Children and Social Development Jean-Yves Duclos was less than the province had hoped for. He offered to provide data which could be used to develop a pilot project, but did not offer to provide funding.

Speakers at a series of public meetings on P.E.I. in the summer of 2017 said a basic income guarantee could help end the cycle of poverty for families. (Sarah MacMillan/CBC)

Even without an offer of financial support, however, Burge said the province should have jumped at the opportunity to use data from the federal government to develop parameters for a pilot project.

"That's the first thing they would have to do, even if [Ottawa] said we were coming on with funds," said Burge.

"To me, it was a great big gift that was being offered. As far as I know it has never been accepted."

Details removed from letter

In fact, the specific details of Ottawa's offer to help with data were removed from a copy of a letter tabled earlier this year in the P.E.I. Legislature.

CBC obtained a copy of the original letter through access-to-information. In that letter, Duclos told P.E.I.'s Minister of Family and Human Services Tina Mundy:

"Should you choose to proceed with a pilot to assess the effects of a potential universal basic income, the Government of Canada has data holdings that could be helpful to you. We would therefore be pleased to work with you to facilitate access to federal level administrative, survey and tax data that could be useful in refining the design and evaluation of your pilot."

However that information was removed from the letter Mundy tabled in the legislature in January.

A spokesperson for the P.E.I. government said the information was removed at the request of the federal government, but said the province committed an error by not clearly indicating the information had been removed.

PC MLA Darlene Compton had asked Mundy to table the letter. She said she wonders whether the province was trying to hide details of the federal government's offer from the public.

"I have to question just how sincere the government's commitment is to create a basic income pilot project on P.E.I.," she said.

No follow-up to 2017 meetings

In the summer of 2017 the PEI Working Group for a Livable Income partnered with politicians from all four political parties to offer a series of four community meetings to talk about a basic income guarantee.

But Burge said there's been no follow-up from any of the parties from those meetings, despite talk of using the information gathered there to develop a more detailed pitch to the federal government on a pilot project.

"The government of P.E.I. is not showing a commitment right now," said Burge. "This apparently was just dropped.... It looks almost like bad faith with the people of P.E.I., because that was a promise."

Minister of Family and Human Services Tina Mundy told the P.E.I. Legislature during the spring 2018 sitting that, while the province continues to pursue a pilot project for a guaranteed basic income with the federal government, it's focusing on developing its own poverty reduction strategy. (P.E.I. Legislative Assembly)

A spokesperson for the province confirmed via email that government currently has "no plans for a basic income pilot project. We are currently in the process of developing a poverty reduction plan, which will be completed in October and we recently announced enhancements to our social assistance program."

In the spring 2018 sitting of the legislature, Mundy told the House the province was monitoring basic income pilot projects in Ontario and Quebec, while working to develop its poverty reduction strategy.

"We're continuing, but we did say all along that we would need involvement with the federal government or partnership with the federal government," she said. "Our focus is on our strategy and building on the investments that we're making."

More P.E.I. news


Kerry Campbell

Provincial Affairs Reporter

Kerry Campbell is the provincial affairs reporter for CBC P.E.I., covering politics and the provincial legislature.