Fr. Bill Ryan, SJ

Finance committee studying rising income inequality in Canada

  • April 19, 2013

OTTAWA - The House of Commons Finance Committee has begun its study of rising income inequality in Canada, holding its first of four hearings April 16.

The committee's study is the result of the successful passage of Liberal MP Scott Brison’s Motion-315 last year that asked for a study of income inequality, including a review of federal and provincial income taxation and income supports, best ways to reduce income inequality and improve per capita GDP, address any disincentives to paid work leading to a so-called "welfare trap," and examining how to improve equality of opportunity.

“I’m pleased that finally the finance committee is commencing a study,” said Brison, who served as Public Works Minister in the Paul Martin government. Though four sessions is not much time to study the “very complex issue” the hearings represent “a start of a Parliamentary engagement, and dialog on an issue of importance to Canadians,” Brison said.

While different ideologies from the left and right might be represented in the hearings and by MPs on the committee, Brison said he hoped the report will be “quite practical.” He liked the fact that the first hearing focused on equality of opportunity. It also focused on ways to help those struggling to get out of poverty by reducing marginalized tax rates and not penalizing people who get jobs with the loss of support programs, he said, noting he was pleased by the support for early childhood education.

Among those presenting the committee on its first day was Citizens for Public Justice, a national organization of people inspired by faith to justice in Canadian policy, and Fr. Bill Ryan, S.J., of the Jesuit Forum for Social Faith and Justice.

Income inequality is a rising concern for Citizens for Public Justice and Ryan, who wrote extensively about the growing gap between the rich and poor in the spring newsletter Open Space.

“With financial globalization, inequality in income spread quickly not only in Europe and North America, but also in development countries such as Brazil and South Africa.” Ryan wrote.

While noting China and the United States are among countries with the highest inequality between rich and poor, he warned the gap “has been recently growing more rapidly in Canada.”

In its brief, Citizens for Public Justice urged the committee to avoid a “finger-pointing blame game of ‘us versus them,’ the super-rich vs. the so-called 99 per cent,” but to focus on helping the poorest 10 per cent of Canadians. They include single-parent families, unattached working-age individuals and people with disabilities. Aboriginal communities are also vulnerable, it said.

Committee chair Conservative MP James Rajotte said he looks forward to hearing from a number of witnesses and to tabling the report in Parliament. He expects debate across the political spectrum as well as debates on existing government policy and how effective it is in addressing income inequality.

“I will expect the political parties will have different perspectives,” he said.

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