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.
When Red Tories hear that union leaders, trade union economists, academics and thoughtful politicians of the left (and Red Tories believe there are many) are planning to engage and advocate on the issue of inequality, we have cause to worry a little. We worry because their focus is often on legislating outcomes that must be glaringly and unabashedly equal. We also worry about polemicists on the far right who argue that most unequal outcomes happen because the winners worked harder, took more risks, had more skill and well, that's how freedom and free markets are supposed to work, even though many of the winners were winners because their parents were or because they were at the right place at the right time. Both biases are deeply unhelpful to finding genuine solutions to inequality.
In 2008, the collapse of financial markets around the world tipped country after country into recession. Canada was no exception. In a short eight month period, hundreds of thousands of Canadians lost their jobs and the Employment Insurance and Social Assistance rolls started to climb. The proportion of part-time and temporary jobs increased as full-time employment disappeared. Canadians had to stretch their dollars further to pay for rising food costs and shelter, many turning to food banks – and credit cards – to make ends meet.
Canadians can sometimes be smug. We pride ourselves on our supposed modesty, but we never miss a chance to stress all the ways in which we are better than our American neighbour. We have a universal public health care system. They don't. Our public school system performs much better than theirs. And, on a number of indicators, from child mortality to the rate of poverty of the elderly, we appear to be a more just society.
When it comes to income inequality in Canada though, there is nothing to be proud of. Over the last fifteen years, Canada has had one of the greatest increases in inequality amongst OECD countries. Inequality is not just an American problem.