Islanders seek livable income

Maureen Coulter
Published on September 21, 2014

Islanders take part in a round table discussion on common concerns about Basic Income Guaranteed (BIG). The BIG campaign is designed to bring 19,000 Islanders above the poverty line so they can meet their basic needs.

©Guardian photo by Maureen Coulter

Getting all Islanders above the poverty line was the focus during a symposium on social justice at Holland College this weekend.

 The first annual Cooper Institute Social Justice Symposium took place at the Centre for Applied Science and Technology in Charlottetown Saturday and surprised organizers with more than 85 people who attended to discuss the issues of poverty on Prince Edward Island.

The push for a Basic Guaranteed Income (BIG) is a Canada-wide campaign to help everyone live above the poverty line so all can meet their basic needs.

The P.E.I. BIG pilot was brought forward by the P.E.I. Working Group for a Livable Income which is a coalition of 12 community-based organizations.

Over 19 thousand Islanders are below the poverty line with the average depth of poverty being at least $5 thousand below the poverty line, said Marie Burge of the Cooper’s Institute.

“What we have now is not working. It’s making a lot of people really miserable and we need to do something.”

Darcie Lanthier, board member of the Voluntary Resource Council and the deputy leader of the P.E.I. Green Party, said she feels a livable income would be an ideal way to bring equality and justice to families everywhere.

“When you talk to people one at a time, even the people who you think are well off, you will find that almost everyone is just couple of paychecks away from a complete disaster.”

Lanthier said it’s important to set a baseline at the livable wage so it allows people to fully participate in society.

“Imagine your life and how it would curtail if you could never go out, if you could never have anybody in. Poverty is isolating. It takes away from community and community spirit and friends and neighbours. It circles in on you until you really have nothing left.”

Dominique Cruchet, a member of CARFAC, a visual arts union in Canada, said artists are just one category of the population who live poverty.

 “I think the possibility of having the livable income for artist would allow them to do their work for one thing and also to expand and give their time to community and to school for example, that usually have a lack of education in art.”

 Chandra Pasma, a policy analyst from Ottawa, has been a livable income activist for eight years and was sought out by the Cooper’s Institute to help with the BIG campaign on P.E.I.

“I think basic income is one of the biggest solutions because it deals with the income aspect of poverty. It makes sure that everybody has an income above the poverty line.”

And though a majority of provinces in Canada have a poverty reduction strategy in place and progress has been made, it needs to happen at a federal level, she said.

The P.E.I. Working Group for a Livable Income suggests a five-year pilot and for the cost of the BIG project to be paid fifty-fifty by the federal and provincial governments. It would cost approximately $95 million to bring the 19,000 people on P.E.I. over the average depth of poverty.