Canada's mammoth wealth gap in 3 easy charts

Canada's wealthiest 86 residents hold the same amount of wealth as the poorest 11.4 million Canadians combined, a new study has found.

Outrageous Fortune: Documenting Canada's Wealth Gap, released Thursday by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, shows the country's wealth gap is even larger than its income gap.

That means the lucky 86, making up just 0.002% of the population, have so much net wealth ($178 billion), they could buy everything (EVERYTHING!) owned by every single person in New Brunswick, and still have billions to spare.

Here are three highlights from the report:

1. Between 1999 and 2012, the greatest dollar gains in wealth acquisition went to Canada's wealthiest 20%. Specifically, 66% of the increase in wealth went to the top quintile, while the poorest fifth of Canadians remained in a net debt position:



2. When you look at the proportion of wealth held by each quintile, it shows the poorest three quintiles (the lower class, the lower middle class, and the middle class) were largely unchanged in the proportion of wealth held since 1999:



3. When you compare the income gap and wealth gap, it shows the richest 20% of Canadian families capture almost 50% of all income while holding almost 70% of all net worth. Meanwhile, "even the poorest of families have a measurable share of income (thanks to Canada's tax and transfer system), but they have no measurable share of wealth."


Photo: duckiemonsterUsed under a Creative Commons BY 2.0 licence.

The ultimate list of quotes on why the Unfair Elections Act is dangerous

The complaints against the Conservative government's Unfair Elections Act just keep mounting.

And in the face of the barrage, Pierre Poilievre, the Minister for Democratic Reform, continues to defend the bill, even calling it "terrific."

Here's the truth about this "terrific" bill, courtesy of measured bureaucrats, electoral experts and scholars.

What Elections Canada says:

On voter suppression

"It is essential to understand that the main challenge for our electoral democracy is not voter fraud, but voter participation. I do not believe that if we eliminate vouching and the VIC as proof of address we will have in any way improved the integrity of the voting profess. However, we will certainly have taken away the ability of many qualified electors to vote."


Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand's testimony before Parliament

On the ability to investigate (*cough* Conservative robocalls *cough*)

"I am disappointed, however, that the bill does not require a record to be kept of the actual telephone numbers used in voter calls. Without such information, an investigation will continue to be significantly hampered. Most importantly, under Bill C-23, the commissioner still will not have the ability to seek a court order compelling witnesses to testify regarding the commission of offences, such as deceptive calls or other forms of election fraud.


The response of Canadians in the face of the robocall affair has been overwhelming. Canadians rightfully expect that such conduct, which threatens the very legitimacy of our democratic institution, be dealt with swiftly and effectively. Without the power to compel testimony, as exists in many provincial regimes, the commissioner's ability to carry out this investigation will remain limited. All in all, when looking at the proposed changes in relation to enforcement, the bill does not address the most pressing expectations of Canadians for timely and effective investigations.


Mayrand's testimony before Parliament

On muzzling Elections Canada

"I am very preoccupied in this regard with the limitation that Bill C-23 imposes on the ability of my office to consult Canadians and disseminate information on electoral democracy, as well as to publish research. I am unaware of any democracy in which such limitations are imposed on the electoral agency, and I strongly feel that an amendment in this regard is essential."


Mayrand's testimony before Parliament

What the experts say:

The guy whose study the Conservatives keep citing

"I'd say, generously, you might get half of those people to show up with ID, so you're looking at at least a quarter million people who won't be able to vote. This is a fundamental right. It's guaranteed by the Charter. It's guaranteed by international treaties. You have the right to vote."


"Either amend it or pull it."


"The minister has used my report … as the basis for justifying the elimination of vouching. He has not interpreted my report correctly."


"I think [Poilievre] has been selectively reading and quoting from my report."


"There is no evidence whatsoever that any voters fraudulently represented themselves in the vouching process."


Former BC Chief Electoral Officer Harry Neufeld's testimony before Parliament

Canada’s top elections cop

"I want to be absolutely clear: if this amendment is not made  (power of investigators to compel testimony), investigations will continue to take time, and in some cases a lot of time. And, importantly, some will simply abort due to our inability to get at the facts."


"Our capacity to deliver a report would be extremely limited or non-existent."


Yves Cote, the Commissioner of Canada Elections, testifying before Parliament

Canada’s former Chief Electoral Officer

"This will directly affect the constitutional right to vote of a number of Canadians without justification. Please. Please do not get rid of [vouching]."


Jean-Pierre Kingsley, who served as Chief Electoral Officer from 1990 to 2007, testifying before Parliament

Canada's former Auditor General

"Elections are the base of our democracy and if we do not have truly a fair electoral process and one that can be managed well by a truly independent body, it really is an attack on our democracy and we should all be concerned about that.


"When you look at the people who may not be able to vote, when you look at the limitations that are being put on the chief electoral officer, when you see the difficulties, just the operational difficulties that are going to be created in all this, I think it's going to be very difficult to have a fair, a truly fair, election."


"Independent officers of Parliament and the government is now restricting what they can say? It's just so inappropriate."


"It's just offensive that the chief electoral officer can not have an advisory group without having to get approval from ministers. It's just astounding to me."


Sheila Fraser, in an interview with Canadian Press, April 3

160 Canadian professors who study the principles and institutions of constitutional democracy

We, the undersigned — professors at Canadian universities who study the principles and institutions of constitutional democracy — believe that the Fair Elections Act (Bill C-23), if passed, would damage the institution at the heart of our country's democracy: voting in federal elections. [...] Elections Canada reports to Parliament, not the government of the day. This is important because the rules governing elections have special significance in a democracy. The legitimacy of the entire political system depends on the fair and impartial administration of the electoral procedures. It is vital that the rules of democracy be debated in an open and transparent way, shielded from partisan calculations. 


Open letter signed by 160 Canadian university professors

 19 academics from seven countries who are experts in election law

"We believe that this act would prove [to] be deeply damaging for electoral integrity within Canada, as well as providing an example which, if emulated elsewhere, may potentially harm international standards of electoral rights around the world."


Open letter signed by 19 international professors

And one of them also said this

"When a democratic, established democracy in the West like Canada seems to be curtailing its own ability to do that, it sends a very poor message to new countries in the Arab world, in Africa, in Asia, who are attempting to move from authoritarianism to democracy."


Andrew Reynolds, Associate Professor of Political Science, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill

What Canada's editorial boards say:

The Globe and Mail

"This bill deserves to die."


The Fair Elections Act: Kill this bill, March 23, 2014

Ottawa Citizen

"The governing Conservatives have a majority in Parliament and, as they've shown time and again, do not shy away from using it to get their way. But having a majority certainly doesn't mean a government has a monopoly on wisdom, or is always right. Governments overreach. They make mistakes and propose bad laws. When this happens and the case for change is unassailable, they have a duty to act -- as they must with the Fair Elections Act."


Amend the Fair Elections Act, March 22, 2014

Montreal Gazette

"It is particularly disturbing that in seeking to justify the measure, the government alleged that a report into voter fraud in a Toronto riding last election said that there was fraud in one in four cases of vouching. This was disputed by the author of the report, Harry Neufeld, who said there were actually no cases of fraud uncovered, and what voting irregularities were uncovered were the result of mistakes by election officials.


It has been suggested quite reasonably that doing away with vouching and VICs would primarily disenfranchise the young, the poor and aboriginals, all of whom tend to vote other than Conservative." 


Federal elections bill needs major changes, March 12, 2014

The Toronto Star

"A government caught in a voting scandal is in no position to ram fundamental changes in Canada’s election rules through Parliament. That is what Democratic Reform Minister Pierre Poilievre is seeking to do. Since he tabled his sweeping Fair Elections Act eight weeks ago, the misgivings of legal and constitutional experts have hardened into outright opposition."


'Fair Elections Act' needs overhaul, March 31, 2014

Halifax Chronicle-Herald

"If, as a nation, we believe in the concept of one person, one vote, then everyone -- regardless of party affiliation or lack thereof -- has a stake in making sure elections are legitimate, that as many Canadians as possible cast votes and that election act changes are fair and justified.


By rushing through changes without giving Parliament and Canadians the right to thoroughly debate and improve them, the Conservatives are blowing off the democratic values that underpin our society and government."


Why the big rush on new elections act?, February 10, 2014

And don't forget the pundits:

Andrew Coyne

"I think some alarm bells should really be going off."


The Tories were right to be nervous. Marc Mayrand shredded their 'Fair Elections Act' almost line by line, March 7, 2014

Chantal Hébert

"But one does not need to read between the lines of the bill to come to the conclusion that the Harper government is more inclined to see a higher voter turnout as a threat than as an ideal outcome.


At a time when most comparable jurisdictions are looking for ways to reverse a decline in turnout the legislation put forward on Tuesday nudges Canada in the opposite direction."


Election bill reveals Conservatives' view on voter turnout, February 5, 2014 

Lana Payne

"The government's (Un)Fair Elections Act is currently being rammed through Parliament by none other than Pierre Poilievre, the just-as-perversely named "minister of democratic reform." It doesn't have a single expert, commentator, champion, booster or friend outside of the government.


Not one. Even Preston Manning has raised serious concerns about the proposed law. He said instead of limiting the role of Elections Canada, the government ought to be expanding it giving the agency more power to boost voter turnout rather than measures that will suppress voting."


Harper's (Un)Fair Elections Act, March 22, 2014


UN agency flags faulty Fraser Institute Index

A United Nations agency is slamming a flawed set of indicators produced by the Vancouver-based Fraser Institute and used by the International Monetary Fund to advance a faulty conclusion that less labour market regulation may help reduce unemployment.
The Geneva-based International Labour Office (ILO), governed on a tripartite basis by governments, employers and labour, is reporting "serious flaws" in four recent IMF papers, based on their use the data from the Fraser Institute's "index of labour market flexibility" and "in the way they are used."

The Fraser Institute's index is part of the right wing think tank's "Economic Freedom of the World" database.

In her critique of the IMF publications, ILO economist Mariya Aleksynska points out the Fraser Institute's index of labour market flexibility is itself based mainly on the World Bank's Employing Workers Index. However, the World Bank suspended use of the index in 2009 and told its staff not to use it because of major conceptual flaws.

Flaws included the use of opinion surveys of employers to judge the degree and impact of labour market regulation. For example, rather than look at the level of the minimum wage in relation to other economic variables, employers were asked what they thought about the level of the minimum wage.

Also, the index is heavily skewed to regulation over hiring and firing of workers, which gives too much weight to one dimension and ignores the wider social and economic context in which regulations are applied.

As the ILO paper notes, the World Bank's World Development Report in 2013 argued that high quality labour regulation is not the least regulation, but rather regulation that "balances the need to provide fair treatment and economic security of workers with the employment adjustment possibilities of firms."

Well-known for their high quality research on labour market issues, the ILO also notes methodological breaks in series are interpreted as reform processes.

"When these breaks in series are accounted for, the majority of reforms identified" in two of the papers "cannot be replicated." Further, the methodology of identifying reforms from the data employed in another one of the papers "does not capture actual reform processes and ignores the scope and the size of the reforms.

"Taken together, our findings call into question most of the empirical results of these papers and policy advice based on them," the report concludes.

We eagerly await a more balanced approach from the Fraser Institute.


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You won't believe what Pierre Poilievre said about the Unfair Elections Act

This just in: the Conservative government's Unfair Elections Act is a "terrific" bill, so says Pierre Poilievre with a straight face.

It's such a galling statement from the minister of state for democratic reform, given the avalache of criticism from all corners about the legislation currently before Parliament:

the country's editorial boards; Canada's Chief Electoral Officer (current and former); the former BC Chief Electoral Officer whose report Poilievre keeps citing to justify the bill's draconian measures; 160 academics in Canada specializing in democratic institutions, 19 international scholars who are experts in electoral law; the opposition parties, and over 100,000 regular Canadians.

Now watch Poilievre in Question Period on Tuesday. It's a remarkable performance:


Photo: YouTube

Michigan university could lose $500k for offering labour courses


No joke: string of Tory cuts kick in on April 1

On Day 1 of the federal government's fiscal year, here's a sampling of Conservative cuts coming to Canada.

Health care

Tuesday marks the start of $36 billion in Conservative cuts to Canada's health care system after the 10-year health accord expired on March 31. The $41 billion agreement with the provinces provided stable funding and set common goals for wait times, home care and prescription drugs.

Instead of negotiating a new accord, the Tories unilaterally established a new formula: a 6% annual increase until 2017, after which funding will be tied to economic growth.

By scaling back the growth in Canada Health Transfer payments, Jean-Denis Frechette, Canada's Parliamentary Budget Officer, says the formula sets in motion the downloading of billions of dollars in health-care costs to provinces. Advocates of medicare say this sets the table for huge service cuts and a renewed push for privatization.

The revised formula now in effect also means the federal contribution for health will drop to 14.3% by 2037, according to estimates of the Canadian Institute of Actuaries and Society of Actuaries. To put this in perspective, when publicly funded health care was first introduced in the 1960s, Ottawa and the provinces shared the costs equally. By 2012, federal contributions had fallen to 21%. Now, they're set to drop even more.


The Building Canada Plan expired on Monday, resulting in an 87% cut in federal infrastructure spending over the next two years. Last fiscal year, the fund had $1.65 billion available, but that drops to $210 million in 2014/15 and 2015/16.

And the new infrastructure fund, amounting for $14 billion over 10 years, has some unexpected strings attached. These new criteria, announced earlier this year, came as a surprise to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, and "has prompted concerns that government would reduce access to some funds for local roads, as well as imposing new caps on the amount of the federal money... that could be used for each project," Postmedia News reported.

Canada Post

As part of major restructuring at Canada Post that reduces services and raises prices, it now costs $1 to buy a single first-class stamp. If you buy stamps in bulk, it will cost 85 cents, a 35% jump from Monday. Until now, increases in the price of stamps were in lock-step with inflation rates.

The next step is the end of door-to-door mail delivery in cities across the country, affecting 5 million Canadians. After gutting services and hiking prices, is privatization next? That’s certainly what many are pushing.

Departmental cuts

Beginning today, departmental cuts to program spending totalling $14 billion begin to get phased in.

Lapsed departmental funding 

Every year, departments and agencies lose billions of dollars allocated in the federal budget if the money goes unspent. The funding, announced with fanfare in the federal budget, is quietly returned to government coffers at the end of the fiscal year (March 31). The public won't know the details of this year's lapsed funding, but here's a sampling from last year to give you a sense of the scale of what's to come in lapsed funding: Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development ($369.9 million), CIDA ($298.4 million), Veterans Affairs ($172.9 million), Environment Canada ($125.6 million), and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency ($34.3 million).

Happy April Fool's Day.

Photo: visulogikUsed under a Creative Commons BY 2.0 licence.

Two queer kids from Calgary have something to say

Tegan and Sara didn't just win big at the 2014 Juno Awards on Sunday, snagging group, pop album and single of the year.

The twins showed people how far we've come, thanks to years of hard-fought battles by LGBTQ activists and their allies.

"I don't think very many people, certainly not us, thought two queer kids from northeast Calgary would get to here. And here we are. So thank you very much, to each and every one of you, thank you very much."