When the federal government unveiled its plan to provide Canadians whose employment has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic with a monthly income of $2,000, members of P.E.I.'s Working Group for a Livable Income saw something that looked a lot like what they and others have been trying to bring to P.E.I. for years: a basic guaranteed income.
"It's very close to what we would be advocating for," said Jillian Kilfoil, executive director of Women's Network PEI, one of the members of the working group.
Many of the financial measures being rolled out by governments to help people weather the COVID-19 storm would be unnecessary if Canada had a basic income policy, say basic income advocates.
“At this point, it would be so good if we could have it in the country,” said Sr. Pauline Lally of the Sisters of Providence in Kingston, Ont. “We really need this basic income. I really, really believe that…. It would be one way to end poverty in Canada.”
Lally is a supporter of the Ontario Basic Income Network and a member of Living Wage Kingston. She points to retired Senator Hugh Segal’s recent book, Bootstraps Need Boots: One Tory’s Lonely Fight to End Poverty in Canada, as a guide to how basic income would transform the country.
Poverty has long weighed on Hugh Segal’s mind. For decades, the former senator has been a vocal champion for a guaranteed basic income to lift the country’s poorest out of the cycle of poverty. He credits his formative years, growing up in an immigrant family in Montreal’s working-class Plateau neighbourhood, for sowing the seeds of his advocacy.
“What bothers me the most about [poverty] is the amount of people whose lives are being wasted because they’re caught in a scramble of too many jobs, too little pay, insufficient resources to cover rent, food, transport, clothes,” he said, in an interview. “Their kids pay a huge price, and it produces all kinds of difficulties.”
I wrote about Universal Basic Income last May when I attended the Basic Income Conference hosted by Basic Income Nova Scotia. I saw a number of comments and posts about basic income in the last few days as a way to help the workers who are now out of work because of COVID-19.
As I learned, a basic income can help not only low and minimum wage workers, but also gig workers like musicians and artists, as well as entrepreneurs just starting out. Many of these workers are out of an income right now and don’t qualify for EI (although yesterday, Premier Stephen McNeil did say EI should be extended to the self-employed). In yesterday’s Morning File, Tim mentioned the need for a basic income as a bottom-up way to support the economy and workers.
Yesterday, Basic Income Nova Scotia released a statement and a petition calling on the federal government to start a basic-income program now for those workers who may sink into poverty over the next weeks and months. Here’s the full statement: