Prince Edward Island Premier Robert Ghiz
©Guardian photo by Heather Taweel
Premier Robert Ghiz says he is looking at the possibility of a guaranteed livable income project in Prince Edward Island.
“It is something that we’re currently discussing right now, exactly how it would work,” Ghiz said Thursday.
“We do now know that we have the social assistance system, which was once called a welfare system, which then adapted into the social assistance system. Is the next gradual step to have a guaranteed livable income? That is something that will be explored.”
The issue was raised in the provincial legislature Thursday when Independent MLA Olive Crane raised concern over a growing number of Islanders, especially senior citizens, who are finding it hard to meet their basic needs.
She pointed to a pilot project in Dauphin, Manitoba, in the 1970s where, for four years, families who lived below the poverty line were granted a guaranteed minimum income by the federal and provincial governments.
“It’s more and more difficult for people who are on modest incomes to survive,” Crane said.
“I truly believe we have to look at a long-term solution … I’d like to see a group come together made up of both government and stakeholders in the private sector to sit down and have a dialogue of what a pilot would look like.”
Ghiz said he believes it’s an idea worth exploring.
He pointed to a resolution at the federal Liberal convention in February that endorsed a basic annual income project.
He suggested if federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau is elected prime minister in the 2015 federal election, a pilot in P.E.I. could become a greater possibility.
“It’s something that we know they’re interested in, so if they are, there should be dollars on the table. We know that the current government is not (interested) that I know of, so that’s what happens when there’s new governments around,” Ghiz said.
“It’s, in my opinion, something that’s worth exploring. You want to make sure that you look after your neighbours and those people who need help in our society.”
Ghiz did not offer a price tag or any other details of how such a program would work, but he did clarify that a guaranteed livable income would not mean everyone would get a salary from government.
“If you’re still capable of working, you’re not going to qualify for a guaranteed livable income if there’s a job available to you, it’s for those people in our society that need help.”
Crane asked Ghiz to put together a working group tobegin work now on putting together a plan of action and prepare for the possibility of future federal buy-in.
But Ghiz said the current discussions are on an ad hoc basis and any formal work would be done closer to the next federal election.
“We’re always looking at evolving our system. So this has been an idea that’s been floating now for the last little bit amongst some advocates in the province,” Ghiz said.
“I’m not against it, so therefore it’s worth exploring.”