By Maureen Coulter
Oct. 20, 2014
Many people are just a couple of pay cheques away from a complete disaster, says Darcie Lanthier of Mermaid Prince Edward Island.
Lanthier, is on the board of the Voluntary Resource Council and the deputy leader of the Green Party on P.E.I., she was one of 85 people who showed up to the first annual Cooper Institute Social Justice Symposium on Sept. 20 to discuss the issues of poverty on P.E.I.
It’s very important to have basic levels met so people can fully participate in society, said Lanthier.
“Poverty is isolating. It takes away from community and community spirit and friends and neighbours. It circles in on you until you really have nothing left.”
The main topic of discussion at the symposium was the Basic Income Guarantee, or BIG, a program designed to raise people below the poverty line.
Marie Burge of the Cooper’s Institute said over 19,000 Islanders are below the poverty line and are often under the poverty line by at least $5,000.
“What we have now is not working. It’s making a lot of people really miserable and we need to do something.”
Along with the income program, things like good housing, education and disability programs need to be set-up to help those living in poverty, said Burge.
Chandra Pasma, a policy analyst from Ottawa, has been a livable income activist for eight years and was asked by the Coopers Institute to help with the BIG campaign on P.E.I.
“I think basic income is one of the biggest solutions because it deals with the income aspect of poverty. It makes sure that everybody has an income above the poverty line,” she said.
A majority of provinces in Canada have a poverty reduction strategy in place, but it needs to happen at a federal level, she said.
“Canada is such a rich country, there is no excuse for so many people to be living in poverty. What I would like to see is one that brings people above the poverty line and the poverty line differs depending on where you live.”
Artists form one group who are continually below the poverty line, said Dominique Cruchet, a member of CARFAC, a visual arts union.
They struggle to pay bills, do their work, or expand their culture, he said.
“I think the possibility of having the basic income for artist would allow them to do their work for one thing and also to expand and give their time to community.”
If artists were paid better, it would open a whole possibility of free access to culture, theatre, and visual arts, he said.
The P.E.I. Working Group for a Livable Income suggests a five-year pilot program with the cost of the BIG project paid 50-50 by the federal and provincial governments. It would cost approximately $95 million to bring 19,000 people on P.E.I. over the poverty line.