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Protesters outside of a barricaded camp library where two men chained themselves inside. While some of the Occupy Toronto protesters were packing up their tents and tarps, other Occupy participants were joining forces with supporters in a march through downtown Toronto on Nov. 22, 2011. (Peter Power/Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)
Protesters outside of a barricaded camp library where two men chained themselves inside. While some of the Occupy Toronto protesters were packing up their tents and tarps, other Occupy participants were joining forces with supporters in a march through downtown Toronto on Nov. 22, 2011. (Peter Power/Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)

Globe editorial

The 1 per cent get a bad rap Add to ...

The top 1 per cent of earners in Canada paid 21.2 per cent of federal and provincial income taxes in 2010, while earning just 10.6 per cent of the country’s income. They are a net benefit to Canada. Occupy that.

The Occupy movement in Canada never really took off, for many reasons. Its goals were unclear and its methods grated, especially on neighbours of occupied spaces. But maybe, just maybe, there was another reason: The top 1 per cent of earners is not really a problem in Canada.

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And why should it be? There is no wall around it. Over a five-year period, nearly half of the 1 per cent dropped out, to be replaced by others, according to a Statistics Canada paper released this week.

And the 1 per cent is not some distant speck of light in some far-off universe. The lowest earner in the group earned $201,400 (the figure includes job earnings, investment income and pensions) in 2010. And like many a despised group before them, they defy stereotyping. Forty-two per cent of the 1 per cent don’t even have a university degree. Not many are investment bankers. A good number are doctors, dentists and veterinarians, and others are managers, according to a separate paper from the University of British Columbia, based on the 2005 census. (Presumably, some are entrepreneurs.)

The top echelon of earners in Canada has nowhere near the share of national income of the 16.8 per cent controlled by their counterparts in the United States. In fact, the 1 per cent in Canada has lost a little ground from its top mark of 12.1 per cent in 2006. (Yes, we know; we’ll take up a collection.) And what is the “right” level for the 1 per cent? One per cent? In Sweden, which some consider a model of equality, the top 1 per cent of earners in 2007 had 7 per cent of the income. At 10.6 per cent, Canada is closer to egalitarian Sweden than to the unequal U.S.

Even in Sweden, though, people say that making lots of money is an incentive to work. With globalization of everything – business, education, labour – the higher end will move higher. We still need to do our best as a society to ensure equality of opportunity, to reduce child poverty, to create good schools for everyone. The Statistics Canada paper suggests the 1 per cent are doing their part to pay for that.

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