Joe Byrne, NDP PEI leader

The COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated the capacity of our health-care system to respond. The pandemic has brought into full view the inequality and weaknesses on our economic system. Our economic system is based on consumption and our ability to consume (or pay for what we have already consumed).

Regrettably a high percentage of people do not have the ability to pay for even the basics of life: this has to change and will not change overnight. A Basic Income is what is needed. Now.

If we can find tens of billions of dollars for industry and financial services and subsidies to business we can certainly find the money needed to make sure that no one in this country lives in poverty.

We have the ability to deal with crisis. The wheels of government may grind slowly but they will turn. The response on health may have some hiccups but overall it has been good. We are seeing the stress points that crisis brings and this will strengthen our system over the long term.

Our economic response is still developing and we will have to see if the plans match the delivery on what is identified. We will also see the gaps in this area. Our willingness to see these gaps will have to be matched by our commitment to address them.

The sad truth is that on-going economic crisis exists for many Islanders and Canadians in “normal” times. Poverty, homelessness, precarious work, low wages and food insecurity are fixtures of our system. They don’t have to be, we accept this and we can reject it as well.

These economic stresses that many live with are worsened in this current crisis. Finding a response to dire crisis should not lead us to where we continue to accept manageable crisis. Our response must be lift every single person in this country out of poverty.

We have options available to extend past emergency response and basic income is one of them. Imagine if we had a basic income plan in place already. We would be looking at expanding and perfecting it, rather than taking first steps to get it started. We could have already freed up resources that could be used on identification and mitigation of the crisis. We could have people from coast-to-coast-to-coast planning further ahead because their immediate income concerns would have an answer.

Ideas on Basic income have been percolating and circulating across the country for a long time. It has been tested and retested and found effective. As a country we have the ability, we have the resources, we should now have the political will to just get it done.