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.
The Finance Department’s long-awaited study on the economic and fiscal implications of our aging population was finally released on Oct. 23. It’s a gloomy outlook that underpins the Harper government’s view that we have to cut government spending today to maintain costly social programs tomorrow.
What the report fails to look at is the positive impacts of slower growth in the labour force, namely the prospect of better jobs and higher productivity.