Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Shift Happens and Four Other Good Ideas to Tackle Inequality

(Here is a story I wrote that originally appeared at

From time to time, we do book reviews.

Well, on reflection, we’ve only done one that we can remember (

Today we thought we’d do something similar.  Recently, we attended a Maytree Foundation Lunch and Learn Workshop.  We participated in the live stream.  Therefore, this will be a Lunch and Learn Workshop Live Stream Review. We have no illusions that we are the first to attempt this.

Armine Yalnizyan was the speaker at this workshop.

Armine is a senior Economist with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
You’ve probably seen her on TV or heard her on Tuesdays and Thursdays on CBC Radio One’s Metro Morning.

Her presentation dealt with Income Inequality. We won’t get into the details.
You’ll know that inequality in incomes and wealth is increasing in this country. It is often referred to as the Growing Gap.

There has been a real change in recent years.  It used to be that inequality came from recessions and the bottom falling out of the economy.  Now, according to Ms. Yalnizyan, “in good times and bad times the rich get richer.”

So what to do?  Here are some snippets from her five good ideas.

Don’t Make Things Worse

Axe some of those bad ideas.  The Temporary Foreign Workers Program is one that needs to return to its original purpose.Income splitting - “inequality by policy design” is another.  Similarly, those Tax Free Savings Accounts (TFSAs) don’t benefit those they were designed to help. We need to stop allowing the demonization of unionized workers and halt the weakening of employment laws as well.

Boost Economy from the Bottom Up

Why not boost the economy from the bottom up?  Raising the minimum wage isn’t just a poverty reduction strategy.  It is good for the bottom line of business.  Better wages raise productivity, increase investment and employee retention.   There are other methods such as increasing the GST credit that can also be implemented which will help those with the lowest incomes.

Tax is not a four Letter Word

Armine Yalnizyan takes this notion from the book by Alex Himelfarb (   There is lot that can be done with taxes that would help.   For example, raising the rate on incomes over $250,000 to 35% (from 29%) generates 2.5 billion dollars.  A financial transaction tax, call it an ATM fee for corporations, could net $4 billion. What could $4 billion get you?  A national pharmacare program or a $10 a day childcare program or a 50% reduction of the number of poor seniors in the country.  Take your pick.

Support the Sagging Middle Class

Many things can be done to help the middle class that will help those at the bottom as well.Ms. Yalnizyan talked about how Canada continues to bring more people into a country that is without a housing plan.  We have a housing crisis in regards to affordability but also in the amount of housing. Expanded rental stock and better development codes are imperative.

Shift Happens

Ms.  Yalnizyan emphasized the power of journalism; how writers can “shed a little light on (inequalities) and get a bit of shirking away from bad behaviours.”One example of this kind of writing is Hugh Mackenzie’s annual review of CEO’s salaries. (

Citing the activism of fast food workers in the U.S.A. that is resulting in higher minimum wages, Ms. Yalnizyan challenges us to get involved and make shift happen.You can listen to the presentation at

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