GBI: an evolution of our social support system, not a revolution.

  • National Newswatch

“Report on Guaranteed Basic Income for PEI – a realistic and affordable way to eliminate poverty among working age Canadians”

Canada’s income support programs focus on specific groups of people and needs, for example by age, health, and financial means. This approach was developed many years ago and was an important innovation in social benefits for Canadians. Governments at the time recognized the importance of helping the unemployed, under employed, or those who were simply unable to participate in the wage economy. Although there have been many innovations and improvements in income support programs over the years, poverty levels among working age Canadians remains stubbornly high. We propose that it is time for another innovation.

In November of 2020, the All Party Special Committee in PEI  on Poverty tabled it’s final report to the PEI Legislature with the recommendation that PEI reach out to the Federal Government with the goal of establishing a demonstration project for a Guaranteed Basic Income (GBI) in PEI. In November of 2023, a group of economists, federal and provincial politicians, and federal and provincial public servants published the report: A Proposal For A Guaranteed Basic Income Benefit in PEI. We contend that a multi-year GBI program in PEI is a practical and affordable way to demonstrate that a GBI for working age Canadians is a far superior way to eliminate poverty than the myriad of targeted, often dysfunctional social assistance schemes. We believe the program will demonstrate that a GBI gives low-income earners a dignified path to becoming more financially independent while improving health outcomes, increasing educational attainment, and reducing crime.

We know that there is considerable skepticism that a GBI would actually deliver the societal benefits its advocates believe it would, and even if that was possible, that a GBI could possibly be affordable.

The report shows that a GBI could easily be funded, delivered with little to no disruption of labour markets and that it’s costs could be cut up to 40% by delivering it using the census family model.

We propose that a GBI be delivered through the federal tax system. It is more efficient, less costly, and encourages people to file their taxes, while keeping some Provincial support systems in place to deal with situations which can arise throughout the year.

Previous studies show that receiving a GBI would substantially improve the health, food security, and housing security of its recipients. It would reduce poverty-based crime. It would support those seeking gainful employment by giving them financial means to take time out for retraining.

A wealth of academic research points to GBI’s benefits, but we need hard evidence and the demonstration project in PEI would give us that.

We recognize that many are doubtful of the merits and affordability of a GBI. We believe this demonstration project will address those concerns. Proposals for some type of GBI have come from every political party reaching back more than 50 years.  It has been studied by a Royal Commission and piloted (but not long enough to have confidence in the positive results). There are several basic income type programs already in use by federal and provincial governments with impressive results. Rather than continuing to debate the possible merits and problems of a GBI, we ought to take concrete steps to gather the evidence. We believe that testing a GBI among working age PEI residents is a responsible and affordable way to recast Canada’s income support programs for the future. Let’s move forward.