In a unanimous decision on Tuesday, December 7, the Legislative Assembly of Prince Edward Island (PEI), Canada, agreed to “pursue a partnership with the federal government for the establishment of a universal basic income pilot project” on PEI.
The motion was originally proposed by Green Party Leader Peter Bevan-Baker, and received the support of all four political parties in the province, which have been united for well over a year in their support for investigating a basic income guarantee (BIG).
Bevan-Baker drew inspiration from past experiments in Manitoba (the Mincome trial of the late 1970s) as well as the pilot scheduled to begin next year in Ontario. He believes that PEI’s small size — the island has only about 150,000 residents — would make it an ideal setting for an additional pilot study. Hugh Segal, adviser for the Ontario pilot, has also encouraged other provinces, such as PEI, to run their own trials of basic income.
According to Bevan-Baker, a pilot project is necessary “so we can evaluate whether the benefits outweigh the costs” — as quoted in a CBC News report about the successful motion — where the costs, in his view, might include a work disincentive effect as well as financial costs to the government. The main benefit specified in the motion is the reduction or elimination of poverty. However, the motion also mentions many other possible positive effects, including “local economic growth, supporting entrepreneurship, reducing administrative complexity and costs, improving working conditions, reducing crime, improving health, and helping to build vibrant rural communities.” CBC News quotes Bevan-Baker as saying, “A universal basic income could enable the greatest unleashing of human potential ever seen.”
The full text of the motion is as follows:
WHEREAS implementing a universal basic income in Prince Edward Island would significantly reduce or potentially eliminate poverty in the province;
AND WHEREAS a universal basic income would likely have many other positive effects,
including local economic growth, supporting entrepreneurship, reducing administrative
complexity and costs, improving working conditions, reducing crime, improving health, and helping to build vibrant rural communities;
AND WHEREAS all four Prince Edward Island political parties have indicated their support for exploring a universal basic income;
AND WHEREAS the federal government has indicated an interest in exploring a universal basic income;
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Legislative Assembly urge government to pursue a partnership with the federal government for the establishment of a universal basic income pilot project in Prince Edward Island;
THEREFORE BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that Government shall provide an update on the progress of this initiative in every session of this assembly.
The motion is still only an early step toward a basic income pilot in PEI. If the province is to actually implement a pilot, it will require cooperation and support from the federal government. The PEI Department of Family and Human Services has previously issued the following statement:
The Province supports the concept of the Basic Income Guarantee. We have been consistent in our response that any pilot project in this area would require active and committed federal participation. We are always open to partnerships with the federal government to improve the financial well being of the residents in our province.
No specific model for the basic income has been proposed for the (possible) pilot. The Working Group for a Liveable Income — an advocacy group that has been instrumental in promoting BIG in PEI for over a decade — explicitly supports a negative income tax (NIT), in which “if the person receiving BIG gets other personal income, the maximum level benefit will be affected by a reduction rate”. Segal has also recommended an NIT for the Ontario pilot. While ‘universal basic income’ is often used to refer to a universal cash grant with no reduction based on other earnings, in contrast to a NIT (cf. “What is the Basic Income Guarantee?”), it is not certain whether the PEI motion intends the phrase in this sense (which would entail that PEI is pursuing a form of BIG less commonly discussed in Canada).
Motion No. 83, Legislative Assembly of Prince Edward Island.
“P.E.I. MLAs effusive in their support for basic-income pilot project,” CBC News, December 7, 2016.
Kevin Yarr, “’A rare opportunity’ for basic income pilot project on P.E.I,” CBC News, November 23, 2016.
Reviewed by Dawn Howard
Photo CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Government of Prince Edward Island