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Occupy Toronto supporters demonstrate on King Street in Toronto on Oct. 17, 2011.Kevin Van Paassen

Canadians are concerned about what they see as a growing gap between the rich and the poor and are willing to consider tax increases to create a more equal society, according to a new poll conducted for a think-tank founded by former NDP leader Ed Broadbent.

The Environics Research survey looked at attitudes toward income disparities in the months after the Occupy movement took over public spaces around the world and as some politicians, including U.S. President Barack Obama, propose taxes on the wealthiest members of society to fight burgeoning deficits.

Here in Canada, talk of raising taxes has been considered political suicide for more than a decade. But the survey commissioned by the Broadbent Institute suggests that most Canadians would not be opposed to paying a little more to preserve social programs and prevent the poor from falling even further behind.

"Individuals from all walks of life indicate they are willing to do their part through fair and equitable taxation to protect our public programs, but they want corporations to do their part too," said the report of the Institute released Tuesday to accompany the poll.

It concludes that "any government or political party that prioritizes the tackling of income inequality will not only reflect current public opinion, they will garner Canadians' support because they will finally be addressing an issue that represents a fundamental Canadian value: equality."

The telephone survey of 2,000 Canadians is considered to accurately reflect the broad opinions of the Canadian public within plus or minus 2.2 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

More than three-quarters of the respondents (77 per cent) said they viewed the gap between the very rich and the rest of Canadians to be a serious problem with long-term negative consequences for society. While NDP respondents almost unanimously agreed that the widening disparity was an issue of concern, a clear majority of Conservative voters (59 per cent) also felt that way.

Only 20 per cent of those polled said they agreed with the statement: "There's nothing wrong with a widening income gap, it just means people have to work harder at being rich themselves."

When respondents were asked if they thought growing income inequality would cause problems for Canada, 79 per cent said it will eventually lead to declining living standards, 75 per cent said it will create increased crime, 72 per cent said it will lead to the erosion of public health care, 71 per cent said it will mean fewer opportunities for young Canadians to do as well or better than their parents, and 67 per cent said it could reduce the quality of democracy.

A majority of those surveyed said the growing disparity undermines Canadian values – something expressed even by most of those living in households making more than $100,000 a year. And 42 per cent said the problem should be a "top priority" for governments. The older the respondents, the more likely they were to say the issue needs to be addressed.

Nearly two-thirds of the people polled responded yes when asked: "Would you personally be very, somewhat, not very or not at all willing to pay slightly higher taxes if that's what it would take to protect our social programs like health care, pensions and access to post-secondary education?"

Even a majority of the respondents who voted Conservative (58 per cent) said they were at least somewhat willing to pay higher taxes to protect social programs.

And 83 per cent of all poll participants said they were in favour of increasing income taxes on the wealthiest Canadians. (Some respondents were asked if people making more than $250,000 should pay more taxes and some were asked if those making more than $500,000 should pay more.) The survey suggested that 69 per cent of Canadians would support the introduction of a new 35 per cent inheritance tax on any estate valued above $5-million. An inheritance tax proposal hurt the New Democrats in the 2004 election but that would have meant a 17 per cent tax on estates over $1-million.

Meanwhile, 73 per cent would agree to gradually increasing corporate tax rates back to what they were in 2008 when the federal rate stood at 21 per cent. It has since been reduced to 15 per cent.

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