BC tops the inequality list on many fronts
READ IT by Bruce Mason
• Have you heard that BC has earned yet another top spot on a list? No, not most “liveable,” “boring,” “expensive” or “unhappy.” Turns out the province is the most “unequal” in Canada. Here are a few numbers to crunch: more than half (56.2 percent) of the wealth in BC is held by the richest 10 percent. The “bottom” 50 percent of the population share 3.1 percent of provincial wealth. Three percent is a long way from 56.2, never mind any notion of 50/50. Coast to coast, BC is the bottom of the barrel – approximately 2,250,000 people share only 3.1 percent of BC’s wealth while about 450,000 divvy up more than half of what’s owned in the province.
That’s just one of the stats that stand out in Andrew MacLeod’s recently published best-seller, A Better Place on Earth: The Search for Fairness in Super Unequal British Columbia(Harbour Publishing). Here are a few more facts: non-mortgage debt in BC in 2013 ($39,000) was the highest among Canada’s provinces and territories. So is our child poverty – one in five children – that is increasing by more than 50,000 annually. Half of BC’s kids who rely on single parents are impoverished. There is a stark contrast in median net worth – in 2012, it was a whopping $2,020,600 for the richest 10 percent and $10,700 for the poorest 10 percent, many of whom are deep in debt. Meanwhile, Vancouver, our largest and most expensive city, has the second lowest business taxes among 55, ranked just above Chennai, India. Consider that the numbers are from Stats Can and other reputable non-partisan sources.
The argument is over what we are going to do about this shameful reality. It’s a far cry from our “Super Natural” moniker writ large about BC and the “Beautiful” we see on license plates along with the tired, delusional slogan mouthed by politicians in power, “The best place on Earth.” This book brings it home that this tragedy and travesty, like climate change, is on our doorstep. We can and must do much better. The good news is we have many options.
The book began as a 10-part series by MacLeod on “Super Unequal BC” in The Tyee. As a father of two in a dual income family, he acknowledges his relatively privileged middle class upbringing and access to opportunity – he covers the legislature in Victoria online at The Tyee – and he describes himself as a journalist – a “reporter, not an activist” – who set out to assemble unarguable facts. But MacLeod not only spills the beans, he also counts them and lists dozens of ways to reconstitute them so more people here at home have enough to eat.
Journalist Stephen Hume describes the book as “a significant work of investigative journalism which deserves a wide audience… examining the growing income gap between the rich and the poor and contemplating the moral, ethical, social and political choices it creates.” He notes that it “frames one of the most important discussions that will challenge British Columbians in the coming decades.”
Laid-back praise alongside musician/activist Bif Naked who sings, “A Better Place on Earth lit me on fire and made me want to run in the streets, banging pots and pans, echoing the sentiments and words.” TheGlobe And Mail put it in the company of former chief economist of the World Bank and Nobel Prize-winner, Joseph Stiglitz’s The Great Divide: Unequal Societies and What We Can Do About Them. That review also quotes Plato’s declaration that no man should be more than four times wealthier than the poorest member of society. Canada’s current average CEO-to-worker pay ratio is 206:1.
“Since 1982, after-tax income for the top one percent of British Columbians has grown by 60 percent. For pretty much everyone else, the bottom 90 percent, that number has remained essentially flat,” MacLeod notes.
As trickle-down economics is discredited and disrobed, “growing the economy” isn’t stemming the inequality tsunami. That requires a revamped tax structure and social programs. But BC is the only province without an anti-poverty strategy.
Jimmy Pattison once opined, “Money is just a way of keeping score.” He didn’t mention – certainly not on his billboards – that the game is rigged and that in Russell Kelly’s 1986 biography, Pattison: Portrait of a Capitalist Superstar, former cabinet minister Claude Richmond observed, “You can’t live a week in BC without putting money in Jimmy’s pocket.”
The deliberate policy of the provincial and federal governments to cut higher and corporate taxes at all costs, while utilizing austerity measures to curtail myriad social programs and cook budgets, is obscene. Leonard Cohen wryly notes in his recently released Never Gave Nobody Trouble, “You got the right to all your riches/But you let it go too far.”
There is, indeed, trouble in paradise. And we are in McLeod’s debt – if we dare use the word – for exposing and enumerating the dark side of runaway growth. The stats will get much worse if we don’t change course and governments. Among the gifts of A Better Place on Earth are do-able options listed in the final chapters. Government policy, which got us into this mess, can be reversed at the ballot box. And I, for one, won’t vote for any candidate who hasn’t read The Search for Fairness in Super Unequal British Columbia.
Bruce Mason is a Vancouver and Gabriola-Island based five-string banjo player, gardener