We may be on the cusp of doing something about wealth inequality in Canada. Robin Sears writes:
When even thoughtful American conservative commentators like George Will muse about the need for a new response from his tribe to the risks to democracy of widening wealth inequality; when the wealth of billionaires has increased obscenely from the profits generated by homebound customers in a pandemic; and when even Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole demands that the rich pay their fair share, you know that the political wheel on equality has begun to turn in a surprising new direction.
Pollsters have discovered Canadians are most troubled by the unaffordability of the basics in their lives, so taking steps to halt the widening wealth gap is becoming hard to duck. The situation risks turning explosive for governments seen as failing to respond. This is the potential nightmare facing the new Trudeau government, as moving from frivolities like their tax on yachts to a serious effort to tax wealth will be a large and uncomfortable step for the Liberals. They have become the party of rich Canadians to a degree that was unimaginable only a few decades ago.
Canadians who have struggled through the pandemic appear to be in a mood somewhat like voters post WWII, when British voters clobbered Winston Churchill and Americans improbably chose Harry Truman’s reform agenda. Yes, Canadians chose William Lyon Mackenzie King again in 1945, but resisting change and risk aversion is our core DNA. Today, Canadians may be ready to demand more. The two out of three Canadians who voted against Justin Trudeau are a formidable majority.
Neo-liberalism has been exposed as snake oil:
Trickle-down tax-cut fairy tales have been resoundingly debunked. Giving corporations more money for investment in innovation turned into executive bonuses, share buybacks and higher dividends, not investment in research. Most Canadians may not know the details of how the rich keep getting richer, but they see it around them in explosive housing prices, and in the vulgar displays of wealthy teenagers street racing Ferraris on late-night highways.
Even Canadians who believe that hard work fairly leads to personal prosperity might be surprised to know that of the 10 richest Canadian families, only one got there through their own effort. What their birth bequeathed them, in large inheritances, was the foundation of the wealth of the other nine. As Thomas Piketty, the brilliant French economist who has focused a searing spotlight on the sources and drivers of inequality has often demonstrated, if you want to die very rich, the only guaranteed path is to be born or marry into it.
So, what's ahead?
First, one may reasonably assume that Michael Sabia and the Finance Department defenders of the status quo will be implacable in opposing any effort to seriously tackle wealth inequality. Second, they and the usual media suspects will roll out their same tired fear mongering about fair taxation: the rich will move to Bermuda, innovators will flee Canada, Canada will become a pariah for foreign investment. Except that Joe Biden is close to winning a major battle on taxing the rich, so those claims will immediately lose much of their credibility overnight.
Trudeau will try to use a more serious commitment to child care, and perhaps an accelerated implementation of real pharmacare, as proof of his progressive credentials. But it will be how be manages wealth inequality — and its policy twin “affordability” — that will be his real test. His opportunity to turn his near humiliation in this campaign into proof of his authenticity as a somewhat progressive prime minister will rest on it. The next two years are the “legacy building” chapter of his political career.
My hunch is that Justin won't run again. Will he do as his father did in his last government? Will he do the big important stuff?