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First Nation chief on P.E.I. backs basic guaranteed income for Mi'kmaq people

Lennox Island First Nation Chief Darlene Bernard is shown outside the Coles Building in Charlottetown Thursday after making a presentation to the Special Committee on Poverty in P.E.I. JIM DAY/THE GUARDIAN
Lennox Island First Nation Chief Darlene Bernard is shown outside the Coles Building in Charlottetown Thursday after making a presentation to the Special Committee on Poverty in P.E.I. - Jim Day
CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. —

Lennox Island First Nation Chief Darlene Bernard supports basic guaranteed income in P.E.I. as a strong means to help lift many – perhaps all – of her people out of poverty.

Bernard estimates 50 to 55 per cent of the approximately 1,500 Mi’kmaq people in the province live below the poverty line.

She said the process of accessing federal funding is an ongoing frustration because, she believes, Ottawa is "culturally biased'' in how it doles out money.

“If I want something from the federal government and you want something from the federal government, I jump through 100 hoops,’’ she told The Guardian. “You might jump through 10.’’

Bernard feels a guaranteed basic income could eliminate that problem for her people “because it is going to be based on income and not on social assistance and all that kind of stuff.’’

She told the Special Committee on Poverty in P.E.I. Thursday that the Lennox Island First Nation and the Abegweit First Nation should play an active role in developing a pilot.

The committee was created in July 2019 to consult with members of the public and community groups across the province. It is mandated to report back to the legislative assembly this year with recommendations to establish clear definitions and measures of poverty and a living wage in the province and to provide fully costed recommendations regarding the creation of a basic income guaranteed pilot for Prince Edward Island.

Lennox Island First Nation Chief Darlene Bernard speaks with Social Development and Housing Minister Ernie Hudson Thursday after making a presentation to the Special Committee on Poverty in P.E.I. - Jim Day
Lennox Island First Nation Chief Darlene Bernard speaks with Social Development and Housing Minister Ernie Hudson Thursday after making a presentation to the Special Committee on Poverty in P.E.I. - Jim Day

“We need to be consulted on it…involved in the development and the negotiation of the model,’’ Bernard said following the meeting. “And then we, as the First Nation governments, need to be a part of the delivery.’’

Bernard would be receptive to having the pilot conducted on Lennox Island, noting it would put more money into the pockets of her people. However, she would want a basic income guarantee program to be adopted permanently and provincewide if the pilot proved successful.

“But if we are doing a pilot and there is no real commitment to continuing it if it has good results, then I think we are creating expectations that will crash and burn. And I don’t think that is a good thing,’’ she said.

Bernard told the committee members that people make choices based on their resources. For instance, many buy unhealthy, less expensive food if that is all they can afford.

“So, to me, when you put more money in peoples’ pockets, they are going to make better choices,’’ she said.

However, she added government should not control how people spend money received through a basic income guaranteed program.

What do you think of the idea? Join the conversation on this article at SaltWire.com


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