by Errol Black
On April 25, 2012, members of parliament passed a motion introduced by Scott Brison: “That the Standing Committee on Finance be instructed to undertake a study on income inequality in Canada…” and “bring forward to the House within one year of the adoption of the motion… recommendations on how best to improve the equality of opportunity and prosperity for all Canadians.”
Speaking in support of his motion, Brison noted that: “When it comes to the growing gap between rich and poor, no political party has a monopoly on answers or the blame, but in recent public opinion surveys, Canadians have identified growing income inequality as the most important issue they want their members of parliament to be working on.” He goes on to note that the level of income inequality in Canada “is in fact above the OECD average, and while it is true that the U.S. still has higher income inequality than Canada, income inequality is now growing at a faster rate in Canada than in the U.S.”
Yes, Mr. Brison, Canadians do understand that the issue of income inequality is the growing concentration of income going to the rich at the expense of everyone else – a situation characterized by Joseph Stiglitz as “growing concentration of income and wealth at the top, the hollowing out of the middle, and increasing poverty at the bottom.”
Most Canadians also know that the causes of the increase in inequality are government policies over the past 30-plus years that have altered the tax system for the benefit of big business and the rich, weakened the social safety net, undermined the ability of workers to form trade unions, and otherwise deregulated labour markets. They also know that we can begin immediately to redress this situation by reversing the policies that have created these conditions in the first place.
However, rather than have the Committee concentrate on the divide between rich and poor, Brison would have them look at all income gaps – between city and country, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, between resource-rich and resource-poor regions, and so on. This will result in a panel report split along partisan lines with divergent views on the issues and a failure to generate any conclusions that will move us toward equality.