Canada looks to PEI for leadership on basic income policy

By Roderick Benns

Publisher of Leaders and Legacies, a social purpose news site


Perhaps now, in the middle of a federal election, it would be a good time to stop pretending that we are helpless to eliminate poverty. In a nation as wealthy and as privileged as Canada, poverty is simply a social construction. It is the result of decisions we continue to make (or not make) as a society — and it is costing us dearly. Inequality breeds poorer health outcomes. It drains our economy. It compromises our moral purpose as one of the world’s leading nations.


Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi and Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson galvanized discussion on this issue earlier this spring when they spoke out strongly in favour of a basic income policy. Their comments to Leaders and Legacies were picked up and shared across Canada.

Leaders and Legacies, in turn, decided to launch a national survey of 327 Canadian mayors to gauge municipal support for basic income policy. The mayors largely represent the most populous centres in Canada, while allowing for participation from all provinces and territories. Charlottetown Mayor Clifford Lee was one of the first municipal leaders to respond to this survey, indicating his support for basic income. Lee believes it would be most effective if it was implemented in tandem with other social supports, such as affordable housing and support for addictions.

A common definition of a basic income guarantee ensures everyone an income sufficient to meet basic needs and live with dignity, regardless of work status. It involves a regular, reliable distribution of money from government to people to help ensure total income sufficient to meet common, basic needs.

Lee says that “until this country’s leadership is able to sit down and address the quality of life issues that hold us back, then Canada will not become what it should be.”

We couldn’t agree more – and Prince Edward Island seems to be leading the way. With all-party commitment to basic income guarantee policy, at least at some level, during the last provincial election, PEI is far ahead of any other province in its support. Premier Wade MacLauchlan’s recent win means that all eyes are now on PEI to watch how this commitment will unfold.

The biggest elephant in the room is the fear that a large cross-section of people will simply stop being productive if they have a basic income. But there is ample evidence to suggest a basic income policy will not do this, from experiments done in Dauphin, Manitoba in the 1970s, Brazil in 2004 (and ongoing), a two-year pilot in Namibia from 2008-2010, and India in 2011, among other examples. Speaking about the most recent India experiment, renowned economist Guy Standing said that people worked more, not less, when their basic needs were met.

Charlottetown’s mayor believes all Canadians “sincerely want to contribute to their society.”

We agree and would like PEI – the birthplace of Canada – to take action now. This would spark a national conversation that could truly be a transformative step for our country. In this most fortunate of nations we already have the money and the basic income solution to eradicate poverty. The only question we must ask ourselves is how we feel about the fact that we haven’t yet chosen to do it.

– This article was originally published in The Charlottetown Guardian.