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Guaranteed basic income discussions continue

Is the idea of a guaranteed basic income in the cards anytime soon?

The suggestion certainly has political support, as a motion proposed by Green Party Leader Peter Bevan-Baker to make P.E.I. a pilot project for the idea received support from both the governing Liberals and the Progressive Conservatives.

In order for that motion to succeed, funding would be needed from the federal government.

So far, Ottawa is showing no signs of committing any dollars. Now the province must decide if it will follow Ontario's lead and go it alone. A three-year pilot project was recently announced for Thunder Bay, Hamilton and Lindsay.

In Thunder Bay, singles earning less than $33,978, and couples making less than $48,054 are eligible for the program. Under the guidelines announced the Ontario government, the program could mean up to $17,000, for singles and $24,000 for couples, minus half of any income they earn.

If that criteria is applied to the Thunder Bay calculations, a single person who earned $33,977 would get $17,000 added and $16,988 deducted, leaving them with $12 extra dollars a year in their pocket before taxes. That is unlikely to be a game changer in anybody's life.

If a program is going to be brought in, it has to result in real change and not just be the smoke and mirrors of a good photo opportunity for politicians. Poverty is very real in this province. It has to be addressed in a meaningful way.

Liberal backbencher Richard Brown has been working with the P.E.I. Working Group for a Liveable Income, holding meetings across the province to define what a basic income should be and how it might be implemented. Brown maintains the federal government must be involved because P.E.I. simply doesn't have the resources on its own to fund the program.

The pilot program in Ontario, which only covers a small section of the country's largest province, is expected to cost more than $50 million. If Ottawa funded an Island program, it would be hard pressed to say no to any other province.

The idea has run into stiff resistance from the business community, which argues the best way to help low income earners is to raise the provincial basic personal exemption, or the level a person earns before they pay any provincial tax. Set at $8,200 for the 2017 tax year, it is the lowest in the country.

Groups like the Canadian Federation of Independent Business and Chambers of Commerce argue unless the exemption is raised, low income earners are actually worse off when they receive an increase since much of the money goes to the province in taxes.

It is a discussion that is likely to continue for some time, yet at this point it is all just talk. When, or if, any real change will take place is a question that won't be answered for some time yet.

- Andy Walker is an Island-based writer and commentator.



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