During this season of goodwill and hope for peace, we find ourselves often humbled by the incredible acts of kindness towards strangers, our fellow citizens of the world. After all, it is the season for giving.
The belief that we should act to help those less fortunate is no doubt accentuated this time of year. That tells me that values like caring and sharing are pretty important to most folks.
Newfoundlanders and Labradorians need no prompting to reach out to neighbours. As a people, our generous spirit and solidarity are legendary. They are part of what defines us, defines our soul.
Indeed, when societies demand wealth-sharing policies from governments as a matter of everyday action, and the income gap between the richest and the rest is the narrowest, people are generally happier.
In fact, data — as pointed out by labour economist Andrew Jackson in the Progressive Economics Forum — shows that that the two provinces with the narrowest gap between its richest and lowest income citizens, P.E.I. and Newfoundland and Labrador, are also the same two provinces with the happiest populations. In other words, we are satisfied or very satisfied with our lives. In provinces where income disparity is at it highest, such as Ontario and British Columbia, people are the unhappiest.
Jackson concludes that people in “more equal and solidaristic societies enjoy better outcomes.”
The conclusion we can draw is that sharing the wealth generated by our economy makes for a happier population.
Yet all around us are examples of how the richest in Canadian society continue to grow wealthier while faced with daunting evidence that the middle class is being eroded and the lowest income earners are far worse off than they were three decades ago.
Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney has repeatedly expressed concern with the rising debt loads of average Canadians. The average debt-to-income ratio is at a whopping 146 per cent and still rising.
Two stories in last week’s Globe and Mail highlighted this phenomenon. One detailed the shrinking middle class in Canada’s largest city — fast becoming a city of extremes. A study by a University of Toronto professor found that 30 years ago, Toronto was a predominantly middle-class city. Today, it is a city of “two opposite populations — one with an average income of $88,400, and another of $26,900.”
Of course, anyone who has visited Toronto, especially during the winter months, is often confronted with the face of income disparity and inequality: a parking lot lined with expensive and fancy cars next to a homeless person huddled over a city grate trying to get warm.
And then there’s Jim Shaw, the
cable guy. Shaw Communications announced last week that their former 53-year-old CEO would receive a $5.9 million annual pension, or about half a million dollars a month. The cost to finance such an obscene pension plan will be, according to the company, at least $70 million. Shaw made over $8 million in 2010, including a $6-million bonus.
And yet across the country, while CEOs protect the real gold-plated pension plans for themselves, they are attacking pensions for working people, including at the collective bargaining table where unions are under intense pressure to negotiate away defined-benefit pension plans.
This week, Canada’s finance ministers meet in Alberta to once again discuss pensions for Canadians. This has been the topic of several previous meetings of finance ministers. They have said they support enhancing and improving Canada’s public pension system. Now is the time to get that job done. It certainly is one way of tackling the issue of income disparity.
In “The Trouble with Billionaires,” Linda McQuaig (a veteran journalist) and Neil Brooks (an Osgoode Hall Law School professor), examine the economic policies that have allowed for the concentration of extreme wealth at the top and the impact this has on the social fabric of our communities and societies.
They also lay out how decades of attacking taxes has in no way served us well. Taxes, they note, are “about collectively creating things of value in a democracy.” Or as former U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Oliver Wendell Holmes, said: “taxes are the price we pay for civilization.”
Fair taxation is, indeed, one of the ways we share the wealth.
Those taxes are then used to build better health care, schools, child care, roads and to ensure food and water safety, to name a few public services.
Imagine if we had to pay for these things individually. Taxation is not bad. But it must be done fairly and the rich must pay their share.
It’s a simple as that.
That is, if we want a more just and equal society — if we want a happy population where values like caring and sharing still mean something and not just during the season of peace and goodwill, but all year long.
(As this is my last column before the holidays, I would like to wish all Telegram readers a happy, safe and enjoyable Christmas with family and friends. Peace and goodwill now and into the new year.)
Lana Payne is president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her column returns Jan. 31.