Canada must address growing income inequality

Canada is moving in the wrong direction and must address its extreme and growing income inequality, according to a new discussion paper from the Broadbent Institute.

The paper, released to Postmedia News on Monday, argues that developing a comprehensive policy agenda - which could include affordable housing, improvements to Employment Insurance, "fair" taxes and a national prescription drug program - is needed to address the problem.

What's concerning is that inequality is getting worse instead of better, and while Canada has the financial means to turn this around, those steps aren't being taken, said former NDP leader Ed Broadbent, the founder of the left-leaning institute.

"We've had this policy of slashing taxes, and particularly disproportionately, slashing the taxes of the rich. It's time we reverse this," Broadbent said.

"It's not as if we don't have the wealth, but it's the distribution of the wealth that really matters."

Income inequality, sometimes known as the shrinking of the middle class, occurs when there is a large polarization between the top and the bottom of society in terms of their share of economic resources, according the institute.

The Conference Board of Canada and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development have both recently pointed out that Canada is becoming more unequal, more quickly than most other countries in the OECD, Broadbent said.

For instance, the Conference Board of Canada reported in 2011 that, from the mid-1990s to the late 2000s, Canada had the fourth-largest increase in income inequality out of 17 peer countries.

Canada was ranked 12th out of those countries, a slip to "below the average."

One of the effects of this is that there's less upward mobility, Broadbent said, adding that there's "overwhelming" evidence that an unequal society decreases the opportunity for climbing.

"Most Canadians grew up with the expectations that their son or daughter could be whatever they want to be, whether it's a hockey player or a brain surgeon ... now the reality is, if you want to live the 'American dream', you should move to Sweden," Broadbent said.

And beyond economic indicators, income inequality affects everything from health to political participation to crime rates, Broadbent said. And what people need to understand is that this affects everybody in the population - not just the poor, he said.

Several recent studies have found that more "equal countries," such as Germany and Sweden, do better overall than "unequal countries" such as Canada and the United States when it comes to indicators such as life expectancy, the incidence of mental illness, obesity and homicide rates, the institute's paper noted.

"Yes, the poor suffer. And we know that, and we have too high a level of poverty, but the really serious thing that we should be aware of is that, with this degree of inequality, everybody suffers," Broadbent said.

There is no "single magic bullet," to achieve greater equality, the paper said, and urged that a comprehensive policy agenda must become a core political commitment. And while a commitment to equality must come from all levels of government, leadership must come from the federal government, the paper said.

The report, Towards a More Equal Canada, is part of the Broadbent Institute's Equality Project, which was launched earlier in 2012.

Canadians can challenge income inequality: new Broadbent Institute paper

OTTAWA—Launching the next phase of its Equality Project, the Broadbent Institute has released a new discussion paper, “Towards a More Equal Canada”, which analyses the causes of, and proposes solutions to, income inequality. The paper follows the springtime publication of a Broadbent Institute-commissioned Environics poll on income inequality that shows Canadians overwhelmingly support taking action to alleviate our growing inequality problem.

“What kind of Canada do we want to live in? What kind of Canada do we want to leave to the next generation?” asked Broadbent Institute founder Ed Broadbent. “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.”

The Environics poll conducted earlier this year 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. 

“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,” added Broadbent. “We are facing a serious and growing inequality problem, and the time is now to re-balance our priorities.”

In the coming weeks, the Broadbent Institute will release a series of responses to this paper written by a number of prominent Canadians from across the political spectrum.


Ed Broadbent on ways to bridge Canada’s growing income gap, and why the one per cent should care

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.

The great free-trade debate: 25 years later

OTTAWA - It was a day in Canadian history that eventually spawned an emotional election campaign that forced Canadians to make a crucial decision at the ballot box.

Twenty-five years ago, on Oct. 3, 1987, Canadian and American negotiators reached a free-trade deal just minutes before a midnight deadline.

To this day, there is still disagreement over whether Canada is better or worse off - with political party leaders from the era offering different assessments.

Former Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, who will deliver a major speech about the deal at a tribute to him in Toronto Wednesday evening, believes the agreement was a "winner" for Canada.

John Turner, the Liberal leader who made opposition to the deal "the fight of my life", now says the agreement changed little because it never really provided free trade.

Ed Broadbent, whose New Democrats also opposed the deal, says the deal has cost Canadian jobs, particularly in the manufacturing sector, and has not been the economic "panacea" that was advertised.

These days, as the Harper government seeks free trade deals with Europe, India and Pacific Rim nations, it's easy to forget how contentious the very notion of free trade with the American economic giant was a quarter-century ago.

Once the trade deal was reached by exhausted Canadian and American negotiators in Washington, D.C., the political floodgates were thrown wide open.

Suddenly, Canadians were immersed in a debate about the very future of their country.

Economic prosperity. Political sovereignty. Entrepreneurial confidence. National pride.

These were hallmarks of an unprecedented coast-to-coast discussion at thousands of our kitchen tables and in the House of Commons.

It was all capped in a roller-coaster of an election campaign in the fall of 1988 that saw Mulroney, Turner and Broadbent compete for the trust of voters on the divisive issue.

Mulroney's Tories won a majority, paving the way for free trade with the U.S. to become a reality. Still, in some quarters, the debate has never ended.

"It was a hot topic back then and it's still a hot topic around some tables," said Derek Burney, who, as Mulroney's chief of staff was in the final free trade negotiations and later became ambassador to the U.S.

Burney said in an interview the trade deal was good for Canada - tripling exports to the U.S. market and giving Canadians more confidence.

"I think it did change the way that Canadians looked at themselves. I think it was kind of a maturing process for Canadians to be able to say that we can compete - provided the playing field is even and we don't have second-rate referees."

What would have happened to Canada if the deal had not been reached? Burney has no doubts.

"We would be a much smaller, less prosperous country. And we would still be pulling at the forelock, uncertain about our destiny here in North America, let alone in the world."

Under the complex deal, reached after 18 months of tough negotiations, Canada and the U.S. removed tariff barriers in goods and services, allowed more cross-border business investment, and established a dispute-settlement mechanism to resolve trade fights.

Douglas Porter, deputy chief economist of BMO Capital Markets, provides a thorough analysis of the trade deal's impact in Inside Policy magazine.

Canadian annual exports to the U.S. jumped from about $100 billion in the 1980s to $350 billion in 2000. However, those exports then "flattened" out - thanks in part to the strong Canadian dollar, the thickening of the border due to security measures post-9/11, and the recession that walloped the U.S. economy in 2008-09.

Foreign investment has shot up, writes Porter. U.S. investment in Canada increased from just $1.7 billion annually in the six years prior to the trade deal, to $19.8 billion per year since 1995.

Similarly, Canadian investment in the U.S. jumped from an average of $3.8 billion in 1983-88 to $22.3 billion per year since the mid-90s.

Porter concludes the trade deal helped "modernize the Canadian economy" and turn it from an "underachiever" among industrialized countries to an "overachiever."

In a recent interview with Postmedia News, Mulroney pointed to the free trade agreement as an example of his government working in the "national interest" - even though the deal was unpopular in some quarters.

"We all know the benefits that (the agreement) has brought to Canada," he said.

"But there's some of us who can remember how tough it was to get that through. And how criticized we were for it, and how brutal that election campaign was in 1988."

In an interview with Inside Policy, Mulroney said the deal has proven to be of "great significance for Canada, both economically and psychologically."

"It's established Canada as a winner, a clear winner in our bilateral relationship," he said."

However, Turner told Postmedia News the deal has made little difference.

"It really hasn't changed things much. We still have a good relationship with the United States and trade moves very well, but not under the agreement."

"It's not a free trade agreement. So we are not enjoying free trade with the United States."

Turner said the American Congress has never yielded its jurisdiction over trade and the U.S. wrangling to delay Canadian softwood lumber exports has shown the weakness of the dispute settlement mechanism.

Broadbent offered a nuanced assessment, insisting that while countries should not turn their backs on exploring international trade deals, they should ensure that both nations benefit and that certain standards - such as labor laws - are respected.

"If you look at what was promised, this was sold to Canadians as a kind of panacea for all our economic problems, particularly in manufacturing." Broadbent said of the Canada-U.S. trade deal.

"It would make us competitive. We'd get research and development, our competitiveness vis-à-vis the U.S. would improve. And we would get lots of jobs. Well, that by and large, has not materialized."

Broadbent also dismissed the idea that the trade deal offered a level playing field, noting that it's difficult for the Canadian auto industry to compete with competitors in the southern U.S., where wages are much lower and labor laws don't exist.

Broadbent said the free-trade deal offers some lessons for Canada as it looks abroad at more agreements.

"I'm not saying don't look at them. But there has to be a rational expectation of mutual benefit. And especially to protect the manufacturing sector."

Broadbent calls on Canadians to stand up against inequality, demand government action

TORONTO—Ed Broadbent is calling on Canadians to take action on income inequality. During a speech last night to a packed room of Economic supporters in Toronto, the Broadbent Institute founder challenged Canadians to demand leadership from their governments in reducing inequality.

“The rise of extreme income inequality over the past two decades of major political, economic, and social change has taken us too far in the wrong direction,” explained Broadbent. “Values and politics clearly matter. Canadians can have a more equal, fair and just society, but we need to make better political choices.”

A majority of Canadians are ready to take action. The Broadbent Institute conducted research earlier this year which shows that 77% of Canadians are concerned about growing inequality, and are ready to do their share – including 2 of 3 Canadians who are willing to pay higher taxes to protect our social programs.

“Extreme income inequality is the result of the rise of precarious and low-paying jobs combined with a growing ‘winner-take-all’ corporate culture,” added Broadbent. “I call on Canadians across the country to demand that their governments take meaningful action to reduce inequality now.”

To launch the next phase of the Equality Project, the Broadbent Institute will release a new paper on income inequality in the coming weeks.

The Broadbent Institute seeks to equip the next generation of progressive thinkers and activists with the ideas and tools they need to build a more progressive Canada.

For more information, contact:

Mike Fancie

Communications Coordinator, Broadbent Institute

613-866-3606 or

NOW editors pick a trio of this week’s can’t-miss events

NOW | September 20-27, 2012 | VOL 32 NO 3

NOW editors pick a trio of this week’s can’t-miss events

Fight violence against women

Time to make violence against women an issue for all genders. We know the issue is way too relevant – more than 10 sexual assaults in the Bloor-Christie area alone in the past few months. At the Walk A Mile In Her Shoes event, September 27, men (and women) walk in high heels to raise awareness of the issue. Participate and gather pledges to boost the White Ribbon Campaign. Noon to 2 pm, Yonge-Dundas Square. Pre-register at

Ed Broadbent talks equality

It’s been one year since Occupy Wall Street made its debut and triggered a mass response to the ever-widening income gap. Now a group of progressives at aiming to chart next steps is tapping the brain of one of the country’s most experienced campaigners for social fairness, former NDP leader and founder of the Broadbent Institute, Ed Broadbent. The former pol outlines his Action Agenda For Equality. September 27, 7 pm. Free. Steelworkers Hall, 25 Cecil.

Greenpeace shares its secrets

Changing things up needs crafty organizers, so here’s your chance to be the best campaigner you can be. Greenpeace hosts Ontario Earth Defenders’ Activist Skillshare & Retreat, a weekend of learning how to build stronger enviro and social justice movements, featuring workshops on developing strategy, working with media, utilizing non-violent direct action and more. Friday to Sunday (September 21-23), $50 (sliding scale, transportation from T.O. included). Orangeville area. Pre-register 416-597-8408 ext 3062.

Dear Jack, we remember what you said

Thursday, July 26, 2012   by: Carol Martin

The Broadbent Institute wants to know how Jack Layton's message has inspired Canadians in the year since he lost his battle with cancer.

One year ago Wednesday Federal NDP leader Jack Layton told the country he was stepping down, "at least for now".

A "new form of cancer", he said, was discovered the week before and he would be unable to stand as the official Leader of the Opposition.

The news came in wake of his meteoric rise in popularity during the 2011 Federal election campaign, a campaign he started shortly after hip surgery.

In February 2010 he had also announced that he been diagnosed with prostate cancer but he said it would not interfere with his duties as leader of the New Democratic Party.

He proved himself a more-than capable leader during the 2011 leadership debates and, under his leadership, the party won 103 seats, more than double its previous high, in the 41st Canadian General Election on May 2, 2011. 

Layton led his party and the Opposition for almost two months before Parliament rose for the summer on June 23.

By the end of the 2011 election campaign 97 percent of Canadians beleived Layton was the man who would make the best Prime Minister of Canada.

Sadly, on August 22, 2011, Layton lost his battle with cancer.

But he left behind a message of love, hope and optimism. 

"My friends, love is better than anger. 
Hope is better than fear.
Optimism is better than despair.
So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic.
And we’ll change the world,"

he wrote in a letter he gave to his partner, Olivia Chow, to share with Canadians, "in the circumstance in which I cannot continue," he said.

Canadians now have an opportunity to share what Layton's message has meant to them through They are invited to sign in and tell the world how his message has inspired them to change the world.

On the first anniversary of Layton's passing many of his family and friends will visit Nathan Phillips Square on to celebrate Jack’s message of love, hope, and optimism.

Canadians are also encouraged to organize gatherings and events to mark the date of his passing on August 22 and to share those events at

Event planned for 1-year anniversary of Jack Layton’s death (Video)

26 July 2012,


Coun. Mike Layton gives details about the event that is planned on August 22 to mark the one-year anniversary of his father Jack’s death.


Jack Layton's legacy remembered on social media

Jack Layton's legacy remembered on social media

Rebecca Lindell, Global News : Wednesday, July 25, 2012 10:59 AM

Love, hope and optimism? A think tank is marking the first anniversary of Jack Layton’s death by asking Canadians how the politician’s dream has inspired them. 

The NDP leader stepped down a year ago Wednesday to focus all his energies on his battle with cancer, a disease that ended his life in August 2011. 

In death, Layton left Canadians a letter urging them to forge a path towards a better Canada, one of greater equality, justice and opportunity. The letter ended with these final words: “My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.” 

The words became a mantra for the millions of Canadians who grieved Layton in the weeks and months to follow. Now a year later, the Broadbent Institute has launched a social media campaign called “Dear Jack” to ask Canadians how they see that dream alive now. 

“It was always really important to (Layton’s) family that the letter was not just meant to touch Canadians, but was actually to be a bit of a call to action for Canadians to actually envision a more loving, hopeful, optimistic, progressive Canada,” said the institute’s executive director Kathleen Monk. 

Monk said Layton’s family knew Canadians would want to commemorate his death, so they came up with the idea to ask Canadians how they responded to that call to action. 

“Why not go back to those values of love, hope and optimism and ask Canadians to give us a report back and to tell us how that message touched them and what they’ve been doing to keep that message alive,” Layton’s son Mike said of the campaign. 

The hub of the campaign is, a website where Canadians can go to share their words, photos and videos. Canadians are also being encouraged to post on the Dear Jack Facebook page or tweet using the hashtag #DearJack or #cherJack 

Dozens of people had posted since the site went live Wednesday morning, with many thanking Layton for his life and sharing memories of a favourite speech or moment. Others were inspired to get into politics. 

“Your work inspired me to be more active in my community and, especially because of your 2011 election campaign, to begin my political career. You’ll never be forgotten!” wrote Alec Smith. 

While Layton, a Toronto politician, was known as a staunch New Democrat, the Dear Jack campaign is meant to be non-partisan, according to organizers. 

“There are those with many political stripes who share in the belief that we should be building a more optimistic, loving and hopeful Canada, sometimes they just don’t share how to do that. This platform gives everyone the platform to see what they are doing,” said Mike Layton. 

The NDP is not officially affiliated with the campaign, which is being run by the Broadbent Institute, an independent think tank. 

“Jack was a political leader,” Monk said. “Jack’s message was directed in a very non-partisan way. He recognized our county needed to cooperate and work together if we wanted to be the country we want to be.” 

Just months before his death, Layton led his party to a historic electoral victory that saw the NDP become the Official Opposition for the first time. Layton started the campaign using a cane as a result of hip surgery, but as the days wore on Layton recovered his energy and finished strong. 

By July 25, 2011 things had changed and a frail Layton held a press conference to announce he was facing a new battle with cancer – a fight that would require him to step back from his political duties temporarily. He died on Aug. 22, 2011. 

The Dear Jack campaign will culminate on the anniversary of that day in Toronto’s Nathan Phillips Square. Layton’s family will join with others inspired by his message to write their own messages, to watch Dear Jack submissions broadcast and to enjoy some artistic performances. 

Share your love, hope and optimism: Broadbent Institute launches 'Dear Jack' initiative


Hard to believe, but it's already been almost a year since Jack Layton passed away. His death and his powerful last letter to Canadians impacted the whole country, and people responded spontaneously, sharing their memories and their 'love, hope and optimism' on social media and with messages in chalk that repeatedly covered Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto. 

This week, the Broadbent Institute has launched a new initiative called 'Dear Jack,' encouraging people to share messages about how they are contributing to advancing social justice. Sarah Layton, Jack's daughter, explains the new campaign in an article in yesterday'sToronto Star:

My father's best talent and pleasure was to empower people around him. Growing up, he'd push me and my brother Mike to open our hearts to become the best we could be. I know his colleagues in politics experienced that as well. And in his final days, he embodied that essence of his in an open letter to Canadians. A love letter, really, ending with his famous challenge: “Love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world...

If my dad’s message has moved you, write him back. Let others know how you’re renewing your own love, hope and optimism in this country of ours.

You can add your message here