Canada is careering “strongly and wrongly” toward increasing inequality, Ed Broadbent told a crowd last Thursday night at the Steelworkers Hall in Toronto. With social implications that will be felt across the economic strata, we all ought to be concerned – even the one per cent.
The former NDP leader was tapped to talk by Economic Inequality, a group formed in response to the growing income gap in Canada.
Broadbent outlined four broad prescriptions for bridging this gap, and ultimately, for creating a fairer society: investing in good jobs, strengthening income supports, increasing access to public services and reforming the tax regime to make it more progressive.
He wasn’t short on specifics either. Concrete actions toward these goals might include funding skills development in such sectors as early childhood education; introducing a minimum guaranteed income modeled on the system we have for seniors; expanding affordable housing and creating a national child care program; and cracking down on tax evasion and closing “boutique” tax loopholes.
The biggest obstacle, most attendees agreed, is persuading the masses to pay higher taxes. Since slaying the deficit dragon of the 1990s, service cuts have become standard and taxes taboo.
Broadbent, however, borrowed a line from Stanley Knowles, who was fond of saying “taxes are the prices of civility.”
Investing in social services produces better outcomes for most indicators of a country’s well being, including lower crime and poverty rates, as well as stronger economic performance.
Although the discussion seemed to pick up where the Occupy Movement left off, the more than 100 attendees were more grey-haired than youthful like the face of last year’s protests. This may point to a burgeoning crop of ageing baby boomers concerned about making ends meet in retirement.
The growing income gap in Canada over the past few decades has been well documented, particularly by the progressive think tank Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA.) In a December 2010 report entitled The Rise of the Richest 1%, the CCPA found that Canada’s top one per cent had seen its share of income double since the late 1970s.
It was not until the most recent recession that Canada has seen so public a backlash against this increasing inequality.
“It’s long overdue that the top one per cent paid their fair share,” Broadbent said.