CALGARY (660 NEWS) — Inequality has been thrust into the spotlight during the COVID-19 pandemic, as many people are growing frustrated about the wealthiest people and corporations raking in more cash while others struggle to get by.
Data from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives shows Canada’s top billionaires have gained about $40 billion dollars during the pandemic. The nation’s richest earners, the Thomson family — who own Thomson-Reuters media conglomerate — lead the way at around $9 billion as of the data collected in September, followed by Shopify founder Tobi Lutke in second and the Weston family — who own the Loblaws franchise, including Real Canadian Superstore locations — coming in third.
The gains have been even more stark in the United States, with that country’s top billionaires increasing their wealth by almost half a trillion dollars. Leading the way south of the border is Amazon founder and richest man in the world Jeff Bezos, whose net worth is a staggering $50 billion higher now than it was before COVID-19 started wreaking havoc around the globe.
These increases in wealth, combined by millions of people losing work and trying to get by on limited handouts from the government such as the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit, have increased calls from the middle class to impose a wealth tax and close the ever-widening gap between the rich and poor.
A wealth tax has long been supported by left-leaning voters, but a poll by Abacus Data done in November now shows that it has much broader support.
“In this poll, what we’re starting to find is that there’s more people who take more conservative positions and who vote conservative who are supportive,” research director Richard Jenkins said.
In fact, close to 80 per cent of Canadians back a one per cent tax on wealth over $20 million and that is seen across the board for supporters of all parties.
The poll was released at a perfect time, just after the federal NDP attempted to pass a motion in Parliament to impose a wealth tax, also including an excess tax on corporations that have profited during the pandemic.
But even though it got the support of NDP MPs, it was resoundingly defeated as all other major parties struck it down.
Overwhelming support amongst Canadians and yet the Liberals, Conservatives, and Bloc voted against a wealth tax for the ultra wealthy! https://t.co/Y3RIHtxd4b
— Heather McPherson (@HMcPhersonMP) November 17, 2020
Heather McPherson, and NDP MP for Edmonton Strathcona — and Alberta’s lone non-Conservative MP in the House of Commons — said they wanted to try and level the playing field.
“We’ve seen certain individuals and corporations do extremely well under the pandemic and profiting off a moment in time where most Canadian families are deeply, deeply worried about the future of their own household economy,” McPherson said.
Jenkins added it is clear that the pandemic seems to be changing people’s feelings about the subject and voters who usually oppose most forms of taxation are now more open to the idea.
“There’s a sort of awareness that the pandemic has sort of changed the world, both in terms of the money that the government is spending, but also the growing inequality in Canada,” he said.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if we start seeing even more calls for it, as government benefits are changing, as the amount of money the government is spending is increasing and debts are increasing. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s more talk about how we’re going to pay for this, and at least for Canadians a wealth tax offers one way to do that.”
McPherson said it was frustrating to see the vote get defeated, and accuses mainly the Liberal and Conservative parties of pandering to wealthy donors and corporations, rather than attending to the needs of the people who vote for them.
“Corporations who have made a profit during this pandemic do need to pay their fair share. And not more than that, just their fair share. They have really benefited during this trying time,” she said.
McPherson added that Canadians are tired about “false austerity agendas”, and a lack of punishment for rich Canadians who chose to move their wealth offshore rather than pony up on taxes.
“We haven’t seen a single Canadian who used tax havens to hide their wealth be held to account. (The Canada Revenue Agency) has picked on everyday Canadians over and over again, but when you ask them to look at people who are evading taxes by using tax havens, who are using loopholes in our tax system, nothing is done.”
McPherson said it is clear that this is a policy that would be widely applauded by Canadians, and despite the fact it was voted down by other parties in Parliament she will not be fazed.
“I don’t know how long you have to be in politics to think that you don’t have to listen to your constituents, but I haven’t been in politics that long,” she said.
“So, when my constituents tell me that that’s what they want, that’s what I’m going to be fighting for.”