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The fortunes of Canada’s 59 billionaires have increased by $111 billion since March 2020, a new report finds — more than the $109 billion the Canadian government spent on income support for workers.
This explosion of extreme wealth among the richest of the rich — people like Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Bill Gates — is “unprecedented in history,” says Ian Thomson, a policy manager with Oxfam Canada.
To solve this crisis, domestically and internationally, we need new policies to curb extreme wealth and improve wealth redistribution, Thomson said.
“Poor communities are suffering more, and those tend to be racialized communities, those tend to be workers who might work part-time or work in the service industry, who are very much on the front lines of the pandemic,” said Thomson.
Meanwhile, Canada’s richest CEOs recorded their second-best year ever for compensation in 2020, according to a recent report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
One person dies every four seconds due to inequality, according to Oxfam, which it says is a “conservative finding” based on deaths globally from lack of access to health care, gender-based violence, hunger, and climate breakdown.
The report’s release coincides with the start of the weeklong World Economic Forum’s Davos Agenda, a virtual meeting where economic and political leaders gather to take stock of the global economy.
International co-operation is key to address this problem at a global scale, said Thomson, including on measures such as taxing multinational corporations and improving access to COVID-19 vaccines.
“We'd really like to see Canada join other countries in changing the trade rules so it's easier to manufacture and distribute vaccines more widely,” he said.
The fortunes of Canada’s 59 billionaires have increased by $111 billion since March 2020, a new report finds — more than the $109 billion the Canadian government spent on income support for workers, according to a new report by @Oxfam. #cdnpoli
To tackle income inequality at home, the Canadian government could introduce a wealth tax and use the revenue for nurses, hospitals, vaccines, and other measures to support Canadians most impacted by these dual crises, said Thomson.
Because racialized people, women, and the working class are disproportionately affected, any programs designed with revenue from a wealth tax need to address root causes of inequality, said Thomson: for example, ending gender-based violence.
Canadian communities are not immune to the deadly effects of inequality. As NDP MP Jenny Kwan puts it: “Lives are in the balance.”
A lack of affordable housing and the homelessness experienced by people in her Vancouver East riding highlight the issues brought forward by reports like Oxfam’s, said Kwan.
People died in their homes during the heat dome that blanketed British Columbia in late June, and now, she said, at least one person has frozen to death in the unusually cold winter temperatures.
Low-income seniors are another group Kwan said is affected by the pandemic and worsening income inequality.
“I have had seniors come to my office in despair because their GIS (Guaranteed Income Support) has been cut and they don't know what to do. The rent is due and they have no other option,” said Kwan. “I've had seniors who've received eviction (notices) as a result of that … and been evicted and rendered homeless.”
The NDP has consistently pushed for a wealth tax, closing corporate tax loopholes, and providing a guaranteed livable basic income.
In the 2021 election, a one per cent tax on wealth over $10 million was a key plank of the NDP platform. Leader Jagmeet Singh also previously made an opposition day motion to implement a one per cent tax on wealth over $20 million.
“The recovery from this pandemic is going to cost us, but it should be paid for by those who profited off of this pandemic, not Canadian families who have been struggling,” reads a statement from Daniel Blaikie, the NDP’s finance critic. “It’s time the Liberals stood up for everyday Canadians instead of protecting their rich friends.”
Building “a more prosperous future for all Canadians” and “addressing income inequality” is a focus of the federal government, Adrienne Vaupshas, spokesperson for Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, said in an emailed statement.
“This includes introducing measures like a tax cut for the middle class and the Canada Child Benefit — policies voted against by the Conservatives and New Democrats,” the statement reads. Other measures mentioned include taxing multinational digital giants, a luxury tax, and limiting stock option deductions in the largest companies.
Natasha Bulowski / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer