PEI

Basic income guarantee can be reality on P.E.I., says poverty committee chair

The chair of an all-party committee on poverty believes a basic income guarantee can become a reality on P.E.I. — and the COVID-19 pandemic has helped show what is possible.

Committee lays out guiding principles, with final report due in November

Green Party MLA Trish Altass, chair of the all-party committee on poverty in P.E.I., says it's important a basic guaranteed income be universally accessible by all adults. (CBC)

The chair of an all-party committee on poverty believes a basic income guarantee can become a reality on P.E.I. — and the COVID-19 pandemic has helped show what is possible.

Green Party MLA Trish Altass said she is encouraged by the agreement on the guiding principles put forth by the committee on what a basic income guarantee would look like.

"It's a realization that everyone deserves to live with basic health and dignity and I was so pleased that we came to that agreement," she said.

The committee released an interim report last week and will present its final report to the P.E.I. Legislature in November.

The interim report recommends the market-basket measure used by the federal government as the official measure of poverty. It measures the basic necessities for living, including, housing, transportation, food, clothing and heat. 

Altass said it is helpful that it is also used by the federal government in case the federal government comes on board. Though the P.E.I. committee has been working for a year on a basic income framework, the COVID-19 pandemic and the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) has spurred renewed interest across the country.

We definitely can make this a reality here in P.E.I. so that nobody ever has to live without being able to meet their basic needs.— Trish Altass

"I think what the pandemic has shown us is what's possible when we decide that it is essential that everybody can live and meet their basic needs," Altass said. "That is the goal of a social program."

Altass said it is important the basic income be universally accessible by all adults. She said a basic income guarantee would likely transform some social programs and services, such as income support, but the committee believes that many social programs and services should be maintained, including disability supports.

"We need to always be sure to keep in mind that not everybody's needs are the same and there will always be needs, both financial and non, that go beyond what a basic income can achieve," she said.

"But overall we definitely can make this a reality here in P.E.I. so that nobody ever has to live without being able to meet their basic needs."

Administered through income tax system

The committee also recommends the basic income guarantee be administered through the income tax system, and be able to respond to people's changing income levels in a timely matter so that the system can adjust to fluctuations in income throughout the year.

Altass said the next step before delivering the final report is to "cost out" possible ways of approaching basic income.

"It will require a major shift in reorganizing the way we handle and manage social programs, but I absolutely do believe it's possible."

More from CBC P.E.I.

With files from Kerry Campbell

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