Canadians vastly underestimate wealth gap, big schism exists between ideal and reality: landmark survey

Animated video shows what people think gap is compared to the ideal and actual wealth distributions

OTTAWA—Canadians vastly underestimate the wealth gap in Canada and want a much more balanced distribution. This is the key finding in the first-ever survey to ask Canadians what they think the wealth distribution is and what they think the ideal should be.

“Canada is much more unequal than Canadians think it is and a far cry from what they think it should be. That holds true for people of all political stripes, including Conservative voters,” said Rick Smith, Executive Director of the Broadbent Institute.

According to the poll of 3,000 Canadians, the ideal wealth distribution would see a healthy middle class with 60% of Canadians in the middle owning roughly 60% of the wealth. The richest 20% would be three times richer than the poorest 20%, who would still own a significant share of the pie -- 11.5% compared to 30.3% for the wealthiest fifth.

Canadians think the actual distribution of wealth in the country is much more unequal than the ideal, the survey shows. People think the richest 20% in Canada own 10 times the wealth of the poorest 20% -- 55.5% of the wealth compared to 5.8%. Canadians think there is still a sizeable middle class, though, and the poorest own at least some share of the pie.

As bad as Canadians think wealth inequality is, the reality is much worse. The richest 20% hold 67.4% of all wealth, while the poorest 20% do not control any wealth at all.

This desire for a fairer distribution holds regardless of demographics and past political preferences, including those who voted for the Conservative Party in 2011, the survey shows.

Other key findings of the survey, conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Canada on behalf of the Broadbent Institute, include:

  • Canadians think the middle 20% hold 13.5% of all wealth, but should hold 23.7%; their actual wealth distribution totals only 9%.
  • Ideally, the bottom 40% would hold 25.6% of all wealth, but they hold only 2.2% in actuality. 
  • When asked about income inequality, four out of five (80%) say the gap between the rich and everybody else has increased over the last 10 years, including 76% who voted Conservative in the 2011 election. Overall, 86% of Canadians think the gap is a problem, including 74% of Conservative voters.
  • When asked if they think government policies and programs can do something to reduce the gap, three in four (73%) Canadians believe government can do something to reduce it.
  • Canadians of all political stripes are supportive of progressive policy options to reduce the gap, including 80% who back increasing the federal income tax rate on the highest income tax bracket and 83% supporting the idea of political parties taking a public pledge not to introduce any tax cut that may increase the gap.

“Canadians clearly want the federal government to do something about inequality in Canada,” said Smith.

Added Don Guy, managing director of GQR Canada, “It’s hard to imagine, given how Canadians feel about inequality, that the political parties won’t want to address this issue in the coming federal election.”

Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Canada conducted the online attitudinal poll of 3,000 Canadians age 18 years and older from September 10 to 23, 2014. The margin of error on an equivalent random sample telephone survey would be plus/minus 1.79%. The survey reflects the composition of Canadians age 18 years and older according to the Census.

The report, titled The Wealth Gap: Perceptions and Misconceptions in Canada, is available online at The accompanying video narrated by Institute chair Ed Broadbent can be found at:


For more information, please contact:

Sarah Schmidt, Director of Communications, Broadbent Institute, 613-857-2814 or sschmidt [at] broadbentinstitute [dot] ca

About Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Canada

Headquartered in Toronto, Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Canada is the Canadian arm of one of the world’s leading companies in providing strategic opinion research for issue organizations, public leaders, non-governmental organizations, and corporations.