Pulse of Canada: Is there a growing divide between the poor and wealthy in Canada?

Thomas Bink
Pulse of Canada

Each Friday, Yahoo! Canada News asks Canadians where they stand on the important issues of the day, and our panel of experts tackles the same question.

This week we asked: The Conference Board of Canada recently slammed Canada over income inequality. Do you feel there is a growing divide between poor and wealthy people in Canada?

Here's what you said:

Here's what we said:

Thomas Bink: I think it’s pretty undeniable that there’s a growing income gap in Canada – not as big as the U.S., but growing. I didn’t need to see the Conference Board of Canada report to see that – I just have to walk downtown in any major city in Canada to see the number of homeless, unemployed and underemployed is growing. And there’s a growing “I’ve got mine” attitude as well. The growing child poverty rate – up nearly 20 per cent since the mid 1990s – is the really scary stat. It just shows that things won’t be getting better anytime soon.

Andy Radia: Absolutely. I don't think that there's any doubt about it -- in Canada like a lot of Western countries the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. I think the more important question is what government can do about it. I know that there's a loud chorus of people to redistribute income by raising taxes on corporations and on the rich. But study after study shows that doesn't always work: we don't live in a bubble so companies and individuals will invariably find ways to avoid taxes and/or take their wealth elsewhere. Moreover, we need these wealthy individuals and entities to stay here to create jobs. I don't have an answer but I think that's a more pertinent question.

Radia: "I just don't think it's as simple as tax the heck out of the rich."

Matthew Coutts: I think the Occupy movement successfully underlined that there is a strong current of economic dissatisfaction in North America. Just the fact that people had so much free time to go camping is enough to show that unemployment is an issue. As for addressing it, the government should help lower income Canadians, but it shouldn’t be expected to carry anyone. This is a bootstraps issue. Although I have to say, just because the rich are very good at finding ways not to pay taxes, it doesn’t mean redistributing the tax load to help lower income folks isn’t the right path. The point in Conference Board’s report that gave me hope was our strong “intergenerational income mobility score” – which suggests poor children don’t have to grow up to be poor adults. As long as there is an opportunity to improve ourselves, we have a chance.

Bink: Yeah, unfortunately there are no easy answers. That said, countries like Denmark, Norway and even Poland appear to have tackled the issue, as they all received higher grades than Canada. I’m as tax-averse as anyone, but there’s got to be a way to reverse the child poverty rate … we tackled elderly poverty rates when they became a big issue in the 1980s, we should look at a similar approach to help impoverished kids. There’s really no excuse for that in a country as wealthy as Canada.

Radia: I agree Tom, we need to find a solution. I just don't think it's as simple as tax the heck out of the rich. Remember, we live next to the free-enterprise United States. In the 1980s and 1990s we saw an exodus of Canadians go to the U.S. partly because of our relatively high tax rates. We're seeing the same thing happen in France right now with the likes of Gerard Depardieu. Here's an idea: let's abolish the Senate and re-invest that money into social programs for the poor!

Bink: Just don’t look to the U.S. for answers, Andy. They finished dead last in the study in terms of income inequality. They’re definitely not helping matters if they’re taking some of our richest taxpayers.

Coutts: Yeah, but we have only managed to drive ourselves into the middle of the pack. We should look at how the countries at the top got themselves there – European countries that have had generations longer to figure out this whole “society” fad. Then mix in a little Made in Canada ingenuity. I used to love the idea of the Katimavik program – Canadian youth helping Canadian society. A little more outreach from us and we wouldn’t need as much meddling from Ottawa.

Radia: I think Matt is on to something – some sort of Canadian cocktail with 'some' sort of income distribution, smarter spending sprinkled with some "Canadian ingenuity."

Bink: Agreed, there's got to be a better way to spread the wealth without gouging the wealthy. Given all the stories about Senators behaving badly this week, I like Andy's idea of shutting it down and using that money to help the poor. It should just be a matter of prioritizing what's important to our future.

So, what do you think? Have your say in the comments area below.

Pulse of Canada appears each Wednesday and Friday
on Yahoo! Canada News.