In­come in­equal­ity harm­ful to Cana­dian econ­omy

The Southern Gazette - - NEWS - BY LIB­ERAL MP SCOTT BRISON Scott Brison is the MP for Kings-hants, Vice-chair of the House of Com­mons Fi­nance Com­mit­tee and Lib­eral Party Fi­nance critic.

Re­cent na­tional polls have found more than three-quar­ters of Cana­di­ans be­lieve in­come in­equal­ity is a prob­lem in Canada.

I in­tro­duced a pri­vate mem­bers mo­tion (M-315) in Par­lia­ment this spring, which asks the Fi­nance Com­mit­tee to un­der­take a study on in­come in­equal­ity in the coun­try. I be­lieve in­come in­equal­ity and grow­ing in­equal­ity of op­por­tu­nity have be­come im­por­tant eco­nomic is­sues for Canada that rep­re­sent sig­nif­i­cant threats to Canada’s econ­omy and so­ci­ety.

June 13 this mo­tion passed by a vote of 161-138, with the sup­port of MPs from all par­ties.

This isn’t a right or left wing is­sue. Mark Cameron, a Con­ser­va­tive and former direc­tor of pol­icy for Prime Min­is­ter Harper, said in­come in­equal­ity should con­cern not only so­cial democrats or lib­er­als, but also con­ser­va­tives who are con­cerned about main­tain­ing pub­lic sup­port for free mar­kets and lim­ited govern­ment.

Amer­i­can No­bel Prize win­ning econ­o­mist Joe Stiglitz said “Grow­ing in­equal­ity is the flip side of some­thing else: shrink­ing op­por­tu­nity.”

In­equal­ity is grow­ing faster in Canada than in the United States.

Sev­eral Cana­dian eco­nomic voices in­clud­ing the Con­fer­ence Board of Canada, Rotman School of Busi­ness Dean, Roger Martin and the Bank of Canada Gov­er­nor Car­ney, have warned in­equal­ity could limit our eco­nomic growth and threaten sus­tain­able pros­per­ity in Canada.

While in­equal­ity can be very bad for so­ci­ety, it can also be bad for busi­ness as it has a great eco­nomic cost. The real threat to the econ­omy and to so­ci­ety is when in­come in­equal­ity be­comes so great it starts to threaten equal­ity of op­por­tu­nity.

All Cana­di­ans ben­e­fit from good pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion and good pub­lic health care, and those es­sen­tial foun­da­tion blocks of equal­ity of op­por­tu­nity are key to why we are do­ing bet­ter in Canada than in other coun­tries.

There are sev­eral ar­eas where pub­lic pol­icy can help.

• We can re­form Canada’s tax and trans­fer sys­tem to re­duce the bur­den on low in­come Cana­di­ans and help boost peo­ple over the wel­fare wall.

• The fed­eral govern­ment could work more closely with the prov­inces on a na­tional learn­ing agenda.

• Im­proved ac­cess to early learn­ing and child­care could help all chil­dren re­gard­less of fam­ily in­come get a good start.

• Cana­di­ans need more sup­port for life­long learn­ing with an in­creased fo­cus on trades to help them adapt and train to qual­ify for the jobs of today and to­mor­row.

• Fi­nally, Abo­rig­i­nal and First Na­tions com­mu­ni­ties have the fastest grow­ing and youngest pop­u­la­tion in Canada. They are also Canada’s most eco­nom­i­cally disad­van­taged and so­cially dis­en­fran­chised.

If that is­sue is not tack­led today, then it will be­come a de­mo­graphic and eco­nomic time bomb. We have a re­spon­si­bil­ity and a vested in­ter­est to nar­row and elim­i­nate the gap be­tween abo­rig­i­nal and non-abo­rig­i­nal Cana­di­ans.

The mo­tion I in­tro­duced sim­ply asked the House of Com­mons di­rect the Fi­nance Com­mit­tee to study in­come in­equal­ity, an is­sue con­sid­ered im­por­tant by an over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of Cana­di­ans, and de­velop so­lu­tions to this grow­ing prob­lem.

Fi­nance com­mit­tee can use this man­date to en­gage the busi­ness com­mu­nity that is deal­ing with is­sues like re­tire­ment security. We can en­gage the NGO com­mu­nity, and ev­ery­one from food banks to faith-based groups who are help­ing low in­come Cana­di­ans.

July 1 is a day of celebratio­n across the coun­try, as Canada Day par­ties take over back­yards and city parks. This date cor­re­sponds with the cre­ation of the Cana­dian con­fed­er­a­tion through the Bri­tish North Amer­ica Act, which took ef­fect on July 1, 1867. It is a mo­ment in time stamped with the val­ues we hold dear.

We of­ten hear that Cana­di­ans be­lieve strongly in the im­por­tance of de­fend­ing their val­ues on the in­ter­na­tional scene. But what are Cana­dian val­ues, ex­actly?

We can ex­am­ine what the prov­inces are do­ing. We can look at what some govern­ments in other coun­tries may be do­ing bet­ter.

The re­al­ity is we can learn from this study.

I am not naive enough to be­lieve a study is go­ing to fix the prob­lem. But as a start we need to un­der­stand it, and then move to­ward build­ing pub­lic pol­icy that will ad­dress in­come in­equal­ity.

A year ago we lost the great Cana­dian busi­ness leader and phi­lan­thropist, Wal­lace McCain.

I be­lieve Wal­lace McCain would want Par­lia­ment to ad­dress in­come in­equal­ity be­cause he would want Canada to con­tinue to be a place where you can grow up in Florencevi­lle, New Brunswick, get some ed­u­ca­tion, work hard and you can go on to con­quer the world.

And then – when you suc­ceed – you can give back.

Canada should be a coun­try where you have the hope of a bet­ter life for your fam­ily, for your chil­dren, your grand­chil­dren and your neigh­bours’ chil­dren and grand­chil­dren.

Look­ing out for the other guy isn’t just good for the soul. It’s good for busi­ness.

The long-term so­cial costs of in­equal­ity and loss of op­por­tu­nity are far more costly than the mea­sures to ad­dress it.

Fi­nally, busi­ness should be con­cerned the pub­lic could lose faith in a mar­ket based econ­omy if they no longer have hope for eco­nomic and so­cial success. When peo­ple lose faith in the sys­tem, they can be drawn to class war­fare, and to politi­cians of­fer­ing eco­nom­i­cally dan­ger­ous, anti-mar­ket poli­cies.

Now, that could be re­ally bad for busi­ness.

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