PEI

Why some don't believe a basic income is the best way to reduce poverty on P.E.I.

The CEO of the Greater Charlottetown Area Chamber of Commerce has concerns about how a basic income pilot project on P.E.I. could affect businesses already struggling to find and keep staff. 

Chamber CEO says program could have ‘unintended impacts on local small business’

Penny Walsh-McGuire, CEO of the Greater Charlottetown Area Chamber of Commerce, has sent a letter to the P.E.I. legislature’s special committee on poverty, asking it to consult with business groups on plans for a basic income guarantee. (CBC)

The CEO of the Greater Charlottetown Area Chamber of Commerce has concerns about how a basic income pilot project on P.E.I. could affect businesses. 

Penny Walsh-McGuire sent a letter to the P.E.I. legislature's special committee on poverty, which has recommended a universal basic income guarantee for the province, asking for more consultation with business and employment groups. 

"We feel that the business community is … recognizing this as a critical issue and have a stake in and are concerned about the levels of poverty in our province, too," Walsh-McGuire told CBC's Wayne Thibodeau during an interview aired on Island Morning. 

"We were just, I guess, surprised that there wasn't a private-sector voice invited to those witness sessions." 

Green MLA Trish Altass, chair of the special committee on poverty in P.E.I., says it allowed presentations from groups who requested a chance to speak at the committee hearings. (P.E.I. Legislative Assembly)

In a statement to CBC News, committee chair Trish Altass, the MLA for Tyne Valley-Sherbrooke, said the committee engaged with community groups who work closely with those living in poverty as well as subject-matter experts across the country.

She said the committee also allowed presentations from groups who requested a chance to speak at the hearings.

In speaking to our members, we continue to hear that they're really struggling to find and retain employees at all levels.- Penny Walsh McGuire, Greater Charlottetown Area Chamber of Commerce 

The committee's report recommended that the province pursue a pilot program that would provide a guaranteed annual income of $18,260 to more than 50,000 Islanders, at a total cost of $270 million a year. 

Last week, Premier Dennis King announced in a news release that he had met with P.E.I. senators to talk about the committee's report. 

The premier is also writing to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, asking that a working group be established between the province and the federal government on the basic income guarantee project.

Businesses 'struggling' to find workers 

In her letter to the committee, Walsh-McGuire also recommended MLAs apply a workforce lens to their deliberations. 

"In speaking to our members, we continue to hear that they're really struggling to find and retain employees at all levels," she said.

She said the pilot project might have "unintended impacts on local small business and our provincial economy." 

People work. They want dignified work, but they tend to want to work.- David Green, professor at UBC 

However, an expert in employment says the theory that a basic income would leave people feeling they don't have to work has not been proven. 

"People work. They want dignified work, but they tend to want to work," University of British Columbia economics professor David Green told CBC's Mitch Cormier on Island Morning. 

Green recently chaired a panel that examined whether a basic income would be the best way to reduce poverty in B.C. It found that there are better ways than a basic income guarantee to use government policy to improve people's lives. 

A report from B.C. found a targeted basic income for groups such as youth aging out of care and people living with a disability, along with other types of government assistance, would be more effective than a basic income guarantee. (Brittany Spencer/CBC)

"A basic income is often put forward as a tool that can hit lots of different targets," said Green.

"What we found was there were better tools to hit almost all of those targets and much more cost-effective ways to do them as well." 

Basic income program 'less effective'

The panel made 65 recommendations to the B.C. government, including introducing a targeted basic income for groups such as youth aging out of care and people living with a disability. 

Other recommendations included beefing up health benefits and bringing in a rental assistance program.

Green couldn't say one way or another whether a basic income program could work on the Island.  

"I don't pretend to know enough about P.E.I. to be sure that that's the right answer for P.E.I.," he said. 

"But from our perspective … a basic income is a less effective way to go to meet most of the targets that we all share."  

More from CBC P.E.I. 

With files from Island Morning

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