‘In these turbulent economic times, I recognize and appreciate the concerns and angst that people, especially young people, feel about the economy, rising inequality, the environment and the state of the world right now.’ Mayor Gregor Robertson as Occupy Vancouver protest began on Oct 15.
The increasingly acrimonious debate over when and how to end the Occupy Vancouver protest threatens to overshadow the ideas that first brought hundreds of people to the plaza of the Vancouver Art Gallery.
However, regardless of what anyone thinks about the demonstrators’ tactics, Occupy Vancouver is onto something more than imitating a New York moment. The group is on solid ground with its claim that income inequality is growing in Canada and especially in B.C.
The richest one per cent of Canadians in recent years has claimed a larger share of economic growth while an increasing proportion of B.C. families are classified as living on a low income, according to research by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and the Conference Board of Canada.
Around 246,000 Canadians with an income of at least $169,300 qualify as Canada’s top one per cent income earners. Between 1997 and 2007, Canada’s richest one per cent took almost one-third of all income growth, said Armine Yalnizyan in The Rise of Canada’s Richest 1%, a publication of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives issued in December, 2010.
Both the richest group and the poorest saw their income rise over the past two decades, Conference Board researchers found. But the income of the top one per cent rose much faster, leading to more income inequality. Tax records show the share of all income going to the richest one per cent almost doubled between 1982 and 2007.
Researchers have documented the income disparity gap with a measurement called the gini index. According to the index, B.C. has the second largest gap in the country, just marginally smaller than that of Alberta.
Researchers also found that those living on a low income account for a larger share of the population in Vancouver than in any of Canada’s 20 largest cities. In 2009, 16.5 per cent of Vancouver’s population was classified as living in low income households, the highest per cent in the country at that time. At the beginning of the decade, 14.8 per cent of the population was classified as low income.
The top one per cent have done well by significant increases in take-home pay and by deep federal and provincial tax cuts. A CCPA report issued this summer, called BC’s Regressive Tax Shift, says that British Columbians with lower incomes are paying a bigger share of their income in taxes than those with higher incomes.
The province now has the lowest personal income tax rates for people earning up to $110,000 a year, but user fees for a host of services have increased, effectively wiping out the cuts. As well, B.C. has one of the lowest corporate income tax rates in the country.
“Combine record-breaking growth in incomes with historically low top tax rates, and the richest one per cent is taking a bigger piece of the economic pie today than at any time in the past century,” Ms. Yalnizyan says.
The protesters issued a “working statement” shortly after they set up their tents. “We, the 99 per cent, come together with our diverse experiences to transform the unequal, unfair and growing disparity in the distribution of power and wealth in our city and around the globe,” they proclaimed.
Mr. Robertson has said the issues raised by the protesters of economic instability and inequality were important and he fully supported their right to demonstrate those concerns publicly and peacefully.
But it is not just politics. Their remarks reflect the reality in B.C.