Attack on unions is a threat to shared prosperity in Canada

Broadbent Institute releases new report: “Union Communities, Healthy Communities”

OTTAWA--The right-wing’s regressive anti-union rhetoric and U.S. styled attacks on the labour movement threatens Canada’s prosperity, says a new report by the Broadbent Institute. The report, Union Communities, Healthy Communities debunks the conservative movement’s attacks on labour and makes the case that unions are vital to stable economic growth.

"The current right-wing attack on the labour movement is part of an attack on all progressives in Canada,” explained Executive Director Rick Smith. “Unions have been a major force for a more democratic, inclusive and sustainable Canada, and the progressive movement as a whole must strongly defend labour rights."

The report builds on the Broadbent Institute’s Equality Project in highlighting how unions have contributed an equalizing effect and helped to create broad-based prosperity.  Unions successfully promoted fair wages, decent working conditions, social programs, and public services which benefit all citizens – not just unionized works.  

"Economic research shows that unions are a major force for greater equality, and that a strong labour movement benefits all Canadians,” said Senior Policy Advisor Andrew Jackson.   “Unions have been a force for progressive community change.”

In the coming days, the Broadbent Institute will release a series of responses to this paper written by a number of prominent Canadians from outside the trade union movement.

Read Union Communities, Healthy Communities today.

Seriously, Canadian conservatives? Ron Paul?

As Canada's right wing gathers this weekend in Ottawa, the conservative movement finds itself looking in a strange -- and somewhat dangerous -- place for inspiration.

Conservatives attending the 2013 Manning Centre networking conference will hear from the usual roster of cheerleaders, political practitioners and ideological elders. But this year's keynote is something different. A surprising guest whose ideas can only be described as completely outside the Canadian mainstream: former U.S. Congressman Ron Paul.

Mr. Paul is well known in the United States for his radical notions. Often described as the "intellectual godfather of the Tea Party," Mr. Paul takes libertarian philosophy to new heights. His positions and policies are offside most U.S. Republicans, let alone Canada's more temperate Red Tory traditions.

One need not dig too deeply to figure out why.

In a 2007 CNBC interview, Mr. Paul suggested that the US Federal Reserve should be abolished in favour of a system of competing currencies: "We can't get rid of the 'Fed' in a day or a week but we could legalize competing currencies...if people don't like competing currencies... they can opt-out and start dealing in gold and silver."

In his 2011 book, Liberty Defined, he opined that, "We need to give up our dependence on the state... it is far better to live in an imperfect world than it is to live in a despotic world ruled by people who lord it over us through force and intimidation." I am left scratching my head at this bizarre statement: which despotic agents of the state, exactly, is Mr. Paul referring to? Doctors? Nurses? Social workers? All of the above?

Mr. Paul has been particularly outspoken on a number of other important issues. As a self-described "unshakeable foe of abortion," he has gone so far as to introduce legislation "which would negate the effect of Roe v. Wade." Mr. Paul opposes gun control because he believes it "clears a path for violence and makes aggression more likely." Go figure. Mr. Paul even wants to abolish the minimum wage: during a 2011 Republican primary debate, he argued that "minimum wage is a mandate. We're against mandates so why should we have it?"

Climate change -- which all Canadian political parties have now acknowledge to be real -- is still a fantasy to Mr. Paul. He suggests that "I don't think there's a conclusion yet... if you study the history, we've had a lot of climate changes."

Mr. Paul has spoken candidly about his views on sexual harassment in the workplace. During a Fox News interview, he stated that "...if people are insulted by, you know, rude behaviour, I don't think we need to make a federal case out of it... people should deal with it at home."

And on key votes he has frequently been virtually alone in speaking against what is essentially a right-left societal consensus. On the 40th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act's passage, Mr. Paul was the only Congressman to vote against a resolution hailing the Act, and even gave a speech to Congress claiming that it "violated the Constitution and reduced individual liberty."

I could go on. Mr. Paul's record of opposition to most ideals Canadians hold dear is very lengthy.

The Manning Centre is, of course, free to invite anybody they wish to their party. Even the Tea Party. But my grandmother used to tell me that "You're known by the company you keep", which seems to me a fair comment in life as in politics. Of all the conservatives the Manning Centre could have invited to be the star attraction at their annual shindig, why Ron Paul? Is this supposed to be a foreshadowing of the future direction of Canada's conservative movement? Which of his, frankly, bizarre ideas does the Manning Centre agree with? How does the Centre see Mr. Paul's contribution as being a positive addition to our Canadian political conversation?

Most importantly: Which pieces of Ron Paul's extreme agenda do Canadian conservatives harbor the ambition of importing?

Canada's conservative movement has been working overtime over the last few years to convince Canadians that they are mainstream and on a roll. It is no surprise that my organization and I disagree with both the philosophy and (alleged) facts behind these conservative arguments. By welcoming Ron Paul to Canada, however, it is difficult to see how the Manning Centre furthers even its own stated objectives.

This article originally appeared on Huffington Post Canada.

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore. Used under a Creative Commons BY-SA 2.0 licence.

Canadians share progressive U.S. values

Viewing Canada - U.S. relations through the prism of supposed national self-interest has led many commentators to reject U.S. criticism of Canadian energy and environmental policies. Indeed, a recent Globe and Mail editorial goes so far as to denounce as a “threat” the view from Washington that Canada should get serious about dealing with climate change.

This is deeply ironic insofar as the vast majority of Canadians—78 per cent would—according to opinion polls, have voted to re-elect U.S. President Barack Obama rather than support his opponent Governor Mitt Romney if they had been given the chance.

Canada has long viewed itself as a more progressive country than the United States, more committed to the collective pursuit of the common good through democratic government, more supportive of paying taxes to support decent social programs and public services, and less wedded to the view that market freedoms are the only ones that really count.

But Obama’s recent inaugural address rang many more progressive notes than we have heard in Canada for quite some time, certainly from the Harper government.

The speech argued that “preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action” and that “social programs are the commitments we make to each other.”

It denounced growing income inequality, saying that “our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well, and a growing many barely make it.”

Obama’s subsequent state of the union address spelled out an agenda for the restoration of the broad middle-class based upon public investments, a transition to a clean, green economy as part of a strategy to deal with the fundamental challenge of climate change, higher minimum wages to help the working poor, and securing real equality of opportunity through major investments in early childhood learning.

Obama also underlined the world’s responsibility to future generations to deal with accelerating and destructive climate change.

The president concluded by saying that “We are citizens. ...  It’s a word that doesn’t just describe our nationality or legal status. It describes the way we’re made. It describes what we believe. It captures the enduring idea that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another and to future generations; that our rights are wrapped up in the rights of others.”

Canadian progressives, indeed the great majority of Canadians, would applaud these sentiments. The key question is: why are they not embraced by our own government?

The Conservatives, let us recall, ripped up the Kyoto agreement and have done next to nothing to deal with climate change. They have failed to impose long-promised caps on carbon emissions by the tar sands and other polluting industries, and have portrayed opposition to their agenda as politically motivated, and, indeed, dictated by foreign interests.

It’s little wonder that many Americans think Canada is environmentally reckless when we have placed all our eggs in the basket of the expansion of oil and gas exports, over-riding entirely legitimate concerns regarding how we deal with the impacts on the environment and the interests of First Nations.

The Conservatives have signally failed to create the new middle-class jobs in a growing green economy which could have been replacing lost jobs in the hard-hit manufacturing sector. Our efforts are hugely limited in comparison to the strides that have been made south of the border, and voices calling for major new federal investments in public transit, energy conservation, and renewable energy have been rejected.

Far from talking about rebuilding the middle-class amidst rapidly increasing inequality, the Conservatives have launched a major attack on the right of the labour movement to participate in democratic debate; have undermined our Employment Insurance and public pension programs; and have delivered sweeping tax cuts to corporate Canada.

Far from investing in real equality of opportunity for all our children, the Conservatives scrapped the embryonic child care and early learning program they inherited from the previous government. Their social vision is confined to promising even more tax cuts largely tilted to the most affluent once the federal budget is balanced. 

In this dismal context, we are ill-advised to reject legitimate comment. Canadians can only hope that the progressive sentiments being voiced in the United States spill over to our side of the border.

This article originally appeared in the Hill Times. Photo: Center for American Progress Action Fund. Used under a Creative Commons by-sa 2.0 license.

Broadbent Institute Grows Team with New Executive Director Rick Smith

OTTAWA—The Broadbent Institute is excited to welcome Dr. Rick Smith as its new Executive Director. Smith will take the helm of the rapidly-growing think-tank from Kathleen Monk, who will remain with the Institute as Senior Advisor.

“I am delighted to welcome Rick to the team,” said Broadbent Institute founder Ed Broadbent. “Rick is a talented organization-builder with a proven track record of positive growth in the Canadian not-for-profit community.”

Rick Smith joins the Broadbent Institute following nearly ten years as Executive Director of Environmental Defence, a leading Canadian charity with a focus on pollution reduction and human health.  He is co-author of Slow Death by Rubber Duck, a bestselling 2009 book on the negative effects of toxic chemicals in everyday life.

With a Ph.D. from the University of Guelph, and history of work with a variety of progressive organizations, Smith’s career has been equal parts policy and politics.  A strong proponent of the "green economy", Smith is one of the founders, with the United Steelworkers, of Blue Green Canada. He also played a central role in the creation of the Ontario Greenbelt, the largest in the world, and the Ontario Green Energy and Green Economy Act.  

“Through its training of young activists, creation of high quality social democratic policy research, and commitment to leading public debate on those questions most critical to Canada’s future, the Broadbent Institute is rendering an important service to our country.  I look forward to all that our growing team will achieve in the years ahead,” said Smith.

“As our founding Executive Director, Kathleen Monk has provided energetic, commendable leadership and built a solid foundation upon which the Broadbent Institute can continue to grow,” explained Broadbent. “On behalf of the Board I want to thank Kathleen for staying on as Senior Advisor as we embark on this next phase of the Institute’s future.”

Rick Smith will begin his work at the Broadbent Institute on January 7, 2013.

Is Income Inequality a Problem in Canada?

This post originally appeared on the blog of TVO's The Agenda with Steve Paikin.

As part of TVO's contributions to the cross-media series "Why Poverty?", The Agenda is conducting online interviews with people who explore issues of poverty and who are trying to help the poor build better lives. 

Our latest is an interview with Andrew Jackson of the Broadbent Institute, a recently-founded progressive think tank named in honour of former federal NDP leader Ed Broadbent. Jackson talks to the Agenda about income inequality, the subject of a recent Broadbent Institute report, "Towards a More Equal Canada."

There will always be people that will have more than others. But Jackson argues that income inequality has reached levels in Canada that are a detriment not just to the poor and working poor, but to the middle class. 

This week, TVO's focus regarding "Why Poverty" is on the working poor. For more on that specific topic, check out TVO's infographic on the working poor in Ontario.

Experts, politicians weigh in on Broadbent Institute income inequality report

OTTAWA—Following the release of Towards a More Equal Canada, a discussion paper on income inequality, the Broadbent Institute has published the first of a series of responses to the report from a number of academics and politicians. This first round of responses includes opinions by Senator Hugh Segal and academics Luc Turgeon and Katherine Scott. Alongside the paper, these newly-released responses represent the next step in the Institute’s Equality Project.

“The public response to our paper has been tremendous,” says Broadbent Institute founder Ed Broadbent. “We are at a critical time in our history; it is more important than ever that we have a national discussion on income inequality.”

An Environics poll commissioned by the Broadbent Institute shows that Canadians are ready to challenge income inequality: 77% believe that income inequality is a major problem for Canada, and a clear majority – including a majority of Conservative voters – are willing to protect our social programs, even if it means paying higher taxes. 9 out of 10 respondents agreed that reducing income inequality should be a priority for the federal government.

“Canadians are prepared to have this discussion,” explained Broadbent. "It is my hope that these responses to our paper will prompt a wider national debate on the political choices that can reduce, or exacerbate, inequality."

Broadbent think-tank wants more 'wealth redistribution'

A left-wing think-tank led by former NDP leader Ed Broadbent says greater "wealth redistribution" is needed to battle income inequality in Canada.

The Broadbent Institute says the growing gap between the rich and the poor became the "defining political issue of our time" after the Occupy movement swept across North America last fall.

In response, the think-tank proposes raising corporate taxes, the creation of "good jobs" - employment with high labour standards and environmental protections - and expanding public services.

"Higher tax rates for very high-income earners are likely the most effective way to deal with the fact that the incomes of the top 1% are rising at the expense of everybody else," the report says. "Top tax rates today are certainly much lower than they were 20 years ago."

Broadbent's institute also argues Canada is currently moving backwards because for "every $1 increase in national earnings over the past 20 years, more than 30 cents have gone to the top 1%, while 70 cents have had to be shared among the bottom 99%."

Broadbent, who has also narrated a YouTube video on the topic, says societies with greater income inequality are generally more violent, less healthy and less prosperous.

The NDP built its election platform on the assumption that a higher corporate tax rate would bring in billions in additional revenue. Conservatives argue lower corporate rates attract foreign investors and create jobs.

Ed Broadbent calls for more taxes to battle income gaps in Canada

Toronto - One year since Occupy Wall Street became one of the leading political movements, the left-leaning Broadbent Institute published a report that highlights income inequality as one of the most important issues facing Canada.

The Broadbent Institute, founded by former New Democratic Party leader Ed Broadbent, released the findings of its latest "Equality Project" on Tuesday. The results suggested that more than three-quarters (77 percent) of Canadians believe income inequality is a serious issue and say they are willing to do more to tackle the problem.

If left unresolved and government doesn’t provide necessary solutions, participants said then the long-term negative impact could eventually be seen in the standard of living (79 percent), community safety (75 percent), quality of healthcare and public services (72 percent), employment opportunity for youth (71 percent) and democratic principles (67 percent).

Participants (71 percent) in the research study concurred that the widening gap between the rich and poor is something that “undermines Canadian values.”

What are some of the solutions? The group said that an overwhelming number of Canadians, both high- and middle-income, support the introduction of new taxes and tax increases as some of the answers to the problem.

Although the federal government faces a near $600 billion national debt and a $31 billion budget deficit, most Canadians want the government to do more. If Ottawa cannot then a majority of Liberal, NDP and Conservative respondents said they’d be willing to pay more to protect public services and reduce income disparity.

Furthermore, 83 percent of Canadians in the survey said that they support higher income taxes for the affluent in society and nearly three-quarters said they want corporations to pay higher tax rates (2008 levels)

More than two-thirds (69 percent) support introducing a new 35 percent inheritance tax on any estate that is estimated to be valued at $5 million or more – Canada used to maintain such a tax but it was scrapped in the 1980s.

“The current rise of extreme income inequality must now be reversed. Canadians need to take action, and demand that their governments take action on income inequality,” said Broadbent in a statement. “Drafted in consultation with some of Canada’s leading thinkers and policy experts, I hope that this paper will stimulate a serious national discussion on extreme income inequality, and what to do about it. We are facing a serious and growing inequality problem, and the time is now to re-balance our priorities.”

Broadbent also published a cartoon video along with the report that shows the former NDP leader writing on a white board with a black marker.

The institute noted that in the coming weeks it will release responses to the study from across the political spectrum.

Earlier this year, the organization published a similar study that suggested Canadians are willing to pay “slightly” more in taxes to protect the nation’s social services, such as education and health care. The survey also suggested the same taxes: 35 percent inheritance tax, corporate tax increase and higher income taxes for those earning between $250,000 and $500,000.

Income Inequality In Canada: Ed Broadbent Wants To Give Tories 'A Good Shake'

Ed Broadbent has a novel idea for convincing Prime Minister Stephen Harper and other Conservative politicians to care about income inequality.

“I would like to take them all and give them a good shake, and take them back to talk to their parents or grandparents,” he said.

As he envisions it, these heart-to-hearts would remind them of the fact that politicians of all stripes — including Conservatives — had a hand in helping to create Canada’s social welfare state.

“My lifetime was mostly spent with governments of all persuasions that at least claimed that they were trying to reduce inequality. Now we have governments that proudly are indifferent to it,” he said.

Raising the profile of Canada’s growing rich-poor divide is top of mind for the former NDP leader and founder of the left-leaning Broadbent Institute, which is dedicated in large part to tackling rising income inequality.

Speaking to The Huffington Post Canada in advance of the release of the think-tank’s latest report on the growing gap, Towards A More Equal Canada, Broadbent explained why income inequality “affects us all.”

The elder statesman also weighed in on the performance of new NDP leader Thomas Mulcair (a candidate he did not endorse in the recent leadership race), and what Trudeaumania 2.0 could mean for the NDP.

What do you hope to achieve with this report?

The major goal is to help stimulate debate right across the political spectrum in terms of [getting all of the] parties to pay attention to the problem, and across the communities, in towns and villages to get engagement in what is a very serious social issue for the country.

We’re getting worse more quickly than other rich countries when it comes to inequality. If you look at incomes, from 1982 to 2004, the bottom 60 per cent of Canadians working, when you allow for inflation, had no increase. And the precise middle, the median income, had [an increase of] $1,000, from $42,000 to $43,000. The rest [of the income gains] went to the top 20 per cent, and the top one per cent almost had their income doubled from $380,000 to $684,000.

So there’s a growing change in what Canada is all about. It’s totally different from the Canada I grew up in. Sure, we had inequality, and no one ever expects perfect equality, but my lifetime was mostly spent with governments of all persuasions that at least claimed that they were trying to reduce inequality. Now we have governments that proudly are indifferent to it.

With that in mind, what are the major obstacles to raising the profile of income inequality issues?

One is that the average Canadian has to understand that inequality affects us all, and not just the poor. Most ordinary people are feeling the pinch because they’ve had no real income increase in 20 years, but they often think of inequality in terms of poverty. But the key thing, the major democratic significance of inequality, is that we’re all affected, even middle-income Canadians, even upper-income Canadians.

The data is overwhelmingly clear that the more equal the society, the lower the level of teenage pregnancy, the lower the level of crime overall. There’s more political participation and civil participation by citizens. Kids are more and more likely to become what they want to be than they are in unequal societies.

Another, to put it candidly, is the ideology of politicians. We have had in the Western world a kind of market-driven ideology. If you let the markets go, [and that] was overwhelmingly reinforced by tax changes that benefit the rich, we [would] all benefit. Many of our politicians, particularly Mr. Harper and the Conservatives, remain locked in that mentality. It hasn’t worked. It brought on a global crisis. It’s led us to the worst inequality since the 1920s. So they have to be persuaded. We have to have a serious debate about re-balancing markets and governmental forces on the other side.

Persuading the Conservatives seems like it will be a pretty big challenge. How will you overcome it?

Well, I’d like to take them all and give them a good shake, and take them back to talk to their parents or grandparents. I’m half-serious about this. Because it was [during] my parents’ generation and that of the grandparents of Mr. Harper — he’s a little younger than I am — that we had the creation of our more socially balanced state. Mr. Diefenbaker brought in hospitalization [insurance] for example, he was a Conservative. Mr. Pearson brought in the broader foundation of the welfare state in the 1960s, with universal health care with the Canada pension.

Of course, my party, the CCF [Co-operative Commonwealth Federation] and the NDP played a leading role in all that, but previous politicians did see the need for this balance. They didn’t want the markets to totally dominate our lives.

I wish I had the answer to how I could persuade other politicians. The Occupy movement ... has called attention to the problem. A lot of it will come from activist organizations, trying to mobilize around the issue. I think more of that needs to be done.

What are the specific Tory policies working against what you’re trying to achieve?

The reductions of income tax. Not only reductions of income tax, but disproportionate benefits to upper-income [individuals] that take away the money that’s needed for post-secondary education, for health care, for Canada pensions. Two of the economists that we [include] in our report show that these kinds of programs that go to everyone that need more expansion right now are, from a cost-benefit analysis, the best thing that middle-class Canadians will ever get.

The other thing that’s happened here, and you see it almost every day from Mr. Harper and in Ontario now, is attacks on unions. Again, the data is very clear, the OECD reports the higher level of unions that you have in a society, the higher level of equality that you have overall. Companies that want to keep unionized employees out frequently raise the wages and salaries of their own employees.

Increasing government support for social programs means convincing Canadians that taxes isn’t a dirty word. How do you plan to accomplish that?

We did a poll a few months ago, and we found that Canadians are upset with the degree of inequality. They believe it should be dealt with. But we asked a hard question, not just “Are you in favour of increasing taxes on the rich.” [It] was “Would you be willing to pay somewhat more in taxes yourself if this led to the improvement of social programs and reducing the degree of inequality.” And the answer, overwhelmingly, is yes.

If we compare ourselves to the U.S., which is a very anti-tax country, the majority of Canadians still see [the benefits], because we have universal health care. We have Canada pension. We have an employment insurance program.

[But] I don’t underestimate it. It’s still a challenge for politicians to go out there and say, “We need to increase taxes.”

You didn’t endorse Thomas Mulcair as the new leader of the NDP. How do you think he’s doing so far?

I think he’s just doing splendidly. He’s been fighting on the very issue we’re talking about, particularly in the case of jobs. Our report [puts] a lot of emphasis on creating jobs that are higher paying paying jobs, not just minimum wage jobs. [Mulcair has] done that.

I strongly endorse Tom. Yes, I supported another candidate [NDP president Brian Topp], but that’s part of the democratic process, and once you have a leader in place, whether or not you supported a leader, we’re in the same party, we share the same broad values. There have been past cases going back many years when I haven’t always been on the side of the newly elected leader, but I have rapidly joined the rest of the team and supported him or her.

What’s your take on Justin Trudeau’s decision to run for the Liberal Party leadership? How concerned are you about him splitting the centrist left vote, and reducing some of the gains the NDP made in the last election?

I suspect [I’m] right there with the majority of Canadians. Mr. Trudeau seems like a personable young man, but he hasn’t demonstrated yet, in the number of years he’s been in politics, a degree of expertise in any particular field.

This is not to say he won’t do that, that he won’t have policies that will be attractive to the people of Canada. All I would say right now [is that] we have a young man with a famous name. [His father was] a man who did some exceptionally good things for Canada, but I would also say some exceptional things that weren’t so good for Canada. [Justin] has won a couple of elections like most MPs have in their own area. But he has not as yet established solid credentials for why he should be prime minister. It’s early yet, so we’ll just have to see.

Gap between rich and poor is the defining issue of our time: Broadbent Institute

A year after the Occupy movement set up camps in cities around the world to protest economic disparities, the institute founded by former NDP leader Ed Broadbent has conducted a study that says income inequality is the defining issue of our time.

“Reasonable people can differ over what income and wealth differences are needed to provide incentives and appropriate motivation in a market economy,” said the report released Tuesday. “But extreme economic inequality clearly undermines equal developmental opportunities and individual freedom since unequal economic resources give rise to significant imbalances of power.”

The policy report is the first to be released by the Broadbent Institute which was founded last year to promote social democratic issues across Canada. It is accompanied by a video that features an animated version of Mr. Broadbent, complete with his trademark bushy eyebrows, explaining the problem of income inequality using a black marker on a white board. This study follows on a poll conducted for the institute earlier this year which suggested a majority of Canadians would be willing to pay higher taxes to preserve social programs.

In the new report, Mr. Broadbent calls for economic policies that promote an increase in middle-income jobs, enhanced public support to those with low incomes, expanded public services, and changes to the tax system that would do more to redistribute wealth.

It is a view that is more easily espoused by a left-wing think tank than a party vying for political power. Even New Democrats would have trouble campaigning on a platform of higher taxes.

But, with the resentments that led to Occupy continuing to simmer and with the U.S. presidential election focused so heavily on the merits and moral legitimacy of wealth redistribution, the institute lays out the argument for a more socialist construction of Canadian society.

Pointing to data obtained from Statistics Canada, the study asserts that, between 1982 and 2004, there was no increase in the incomes of the bottom 60 per cent of families, when adjusted for inflation. But, over the same period, the share of taxable income going to the top one per cent of families rose from 7.4 per cent to 11.2 per cent, it says. And the top 1 per cent of all tax filers receive 14 per cent of all income – up from 8 per cent in the early 1980s.

Since the mid-1990s, the study says, the increase in income inequality in Canada has been greater than the average of most advanced industrial countries.

The Broadbent report argues that, when left to their own devices, “markets generate large inequalities of income and wealth which pose a threat to the moral goal of equal life chances.” It says a society based on merit is undercut when extremes of wealth allow the very rich to buy advantage for their children.

And it says that, in situations of extreme inequality, less wealthy consumers try to copy the spending patterns of the affluent, creating unaffordable debt and economic bubbles which burst causing recessions like the one that began in 2008.