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UPDATE: Mundy says P.E.I. cannot adopt universal income pilot without federal dollars

FILE PHOTO: Brad Trivers, Conservative MLA for Rustico-Emerald.
FILE PHOTO: Brad Trivers, Conservative MLA for Rustico-Emerald.

CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. – It does not appear Prince Edward Island will see a universal basic income pilot anytime soon.

Robert Henderson, right, and Family and Human Services Minister Tina Mundy.

Family and Human Services Minister Tina Mundy says she is still in conversation with federal officials and local groups and organizations pushing for the idea.
But she admits without federal dollars, these conversations will remain just that – talk.
“We’ll continue to push it, but we have a very ambitious agenda ourselves,” Mundy said Friday.
“We have a poverty reduction strategy that we’re leading the work on… we’ve got changes coming to the child care subsidy program, so we want to continue along with our agenda, but we will continue to push the federal government.”

The Trudeau government told the province definitively earlier this year it is not prepared to fund a universal basic income pilot in P.E.I.

Federal Social Development Minister Jean Yves Duclos did say his department could provide data to help P.E.I. develop its own program.

Opposition MLA Brad Trivers took government to task Friday for inaction in pursuing this option.

“This tired Liberal government basically shelved the idea of a basic income project when Ottawa wouldn’t pay for it, even though the federal government did offer support through data,” Trivers said during question period Friday.

Trivers noted Ontario was given the same offer of data support, and is going ahead with its own universal basic income pilot.

“If the federal government offered the same support to both provinces, why is Ontario showing more leadership on a basic income pilot?”

Mundy pointed out Ontario’s program will only service 4,000 people in a province with a population of 12 million.

“That’s all they could afford, because it is a very, very, very expensive project to undertake,” she said.

The province insists financial commitment would be required from the federal government to support a pilot like this in P.E.I.

Meanwhile, Mundy says she believes her department is doing its part to help low-income and vulnerable Islanders.

She used a government talking point from the recent provincial budget that her department budget has been increased by $6.6 million as proof of this.

In reality, her department is spending virtually the same amount it spent last year, as it was over budget last year by over $6 million due to increased demand for social assistance programs.

Trivers says this is not a true increase in funding.

“The minister likes to talk about how they’re spending more money on vulnerable Islanders, but what’s happening is that more people are vulnerable.”

That’s why poverty advocates are pushing for basic income program, as it is a smarter way of using public money to help those in need.

‘The way the system is set up right now is you have to fail before you can get help,” Trivers said.

“That’s really what the universal basic income is all about. Helping people who are on that cusp of needing social assistance to help themselves and give them that opportunity to get out of it without waiting until they absolutely have nothing.”

Mundy acknowledged “government can always do better,” but pointed out poverty is not a new problem nor is it unique to P.E.I.

“Poverty is a complex issue that has been around for thousands of years. Throwing money at the issue isn’t going to solve the problem,” she said.

“What we’re doing differently is we are working collaboratively across government… and hopefully with that more collaborative approach, we are going to be attacking poverty a little bit differently than we have in the past.”

 

twright@theguardian.pe.ca

Twitter.com/GuardianTeresa

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