The need for Islanders to push against government and the private sector to eradicate poverty on P.E.I., was the message a local coalition promoted on Friday.
The P.E.I. Coalition for a Poverty Eradication Strategy, headed up by Mary Boyd, partnered with Christine Saulnier, director of the Nova Scotia Office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, to share their findings on poverty and finance levels on P.E.I. with Valerie Docherty, P.E.I.’s minister of community services and seniors. After that, at 2:30 p.m., the group convened again at the Murphy Community Centre to share their opinions on how the prior meeting proceeded.
The minister seemed very open to the suggestions the coalition offered, Boyd said.
“It was timely, it was a good thing to remind the minister and the deputy minister that there is a process going on, but it is in no way complete and there is so much more that needs to be done.”
Simply put, the coalitions report states too many Islanders live in poverty and eradicating it would save the province a lot of money. The coalition says poverty on P.E.I. costs the provincial government about $100 million every year.
Forty million dollars of that is for health care alone, which translates to seven per cent of P.E.I.’s budget for health care, said Saulnier.
“We know that we need to take a different approach to health care, but we also need to take a look at government budgets,” she said. “As the budgets shrink in social assistance, we have narrowed the eligibility for people who can have access to income assistance.”
Sixty-three per cent of Islanders earn $30, 000 a year after taxes, said Saulnier.
“That’s very low, it was stunning to me actually … It is stunning to know how many people are making very little money in this province. This does involve looking at your tax system, but in some respects, there could be very little room for redistribution.”
One key idea is to push back the private sector, she said.
“I understand your minimum wage is going up again, Nova Scotia’s is going up again by 15 cents, which gets us just over $10 … And with just this 15 cent increase, the business community is out and saying ‘oh no, this can’t happen.’”
There is also a major difference in how the government and the coalition measure their studies. The coalition uses a market basket system, which divides a society’s wealth into five parts and compares the earnings of the highest and lowest ends. The government uses another way which may not be entirely reflective of society, Saulnier and Boyd said.