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10% of Canadians hold half the wealth, report shows

Mia Rabson / Winnipeg Free Press

Nearly half the wealth in Canada sits in the hands of just 10 per cent of the people, a new report from the Broadbent Institute said Thursday.

Haves and Have Nots: Deep and Persistent Wealth Inequality in Canada uses data the Broadbent Institute purchased from Statistics Canada's survey of financial security, which was released last February.

Rick Smith, executive director of the Broadbent Institute, said there has been a lot of discussion about income inequality but he said that's just one part of the overall picture of the discrepancies between being wealthy and poor in this country. How much wealth people have amassed in real estate, the stock market, savings accounts and pensions tells a startling tale, said Smith.

"Your average Canadian cares both about their monthly paycheque and how fast they are paying off their mortgage," he said. "I think the results are terribly surprising and will be surprising to most Canadians."

The results found the poorest 10 per cent of Canadians hold more debt than assets, and the poorest 50 per cent of Canadians account for just 5.5 per cent of all the wealth accumulated in Canada.

Conversely, the wealthiest 10 per cent of Canadians own 47.9 per cent of the wealth.

The wealth discrepancy is greatest in British Columbia, where the top 10 per cent own 56.2 per cent of the wealth and the bottom 50 per cent own just three per cent.

The Prairie region had the second-biggest discrepancy, with the wealthiest 10 per cent owning 49.4 per cent and the bottom 50 per cent owning 5.6 per cent.

Statistics Canada released most of the data last winter but the Broadbent Institute purchased additional information that allows it to report more details.

Smith said the initial Statistics Canada report wasn't detailed enough to draw relevant conclusions.

The new data show the richest 10 per cent of Canadians have a median net worth of more than $2.1 million. However, the poorest 10 per cent owe more than they own, with a net worth of -$5,100.

Since 2005, the richest 10 per cent has seen their net worth grow by 41 per cent, or $620,000. The poorest 10 per cent saw their net worth sink further, from -$2,000.

"This situation is not the natural law of the universe," said Smith. "It's not like gravity."

He said the blame partly lies in policies that provide tax loopholes for stock options and the fact tax benefits for children and working people have not kept pace with inflation.

He said political parties would do well to listen to what these numbers are saying.

"At kitchen tables and dinner parties right across this country, people talk about how they feel stuck economically," said Smith.