Don’s speech to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE)

Dear Colleagues,

There are few issues of more fundamental importance to our societies and the citizens we represent than that which concerns the distribution of income and wealth. It determines quality of life, impacts national cohesion and influences economic, social and cultural development.

Disturbingly, however, the last four decades have seen an alarming trend towards increasing economic inequality across the globe. In 2013, the OECD concluded that, from the 1980s to the late 2000s, income inequality as measured by the GINI co-efficient rose markedly in most countries for which data is available. According to OXFAM, the world’s eight richest individuals now control as much wealth as the poorest 50% of all human beings.

My own country, Canada, is no exception to this trend. A 2014 study reported that Canada was one of the countries with a particularly prominent concentration of wealth; indeed, the two richest Canadians now possess more wealth than 30% of all Canadians, or 11 million people.

The causes of this development are multi-pronged, but essentially can be traced to neo-liberal economic policies that have exacerbated wealth concentration.

Reduced taxation, shrinking public services, de-regulation and privatization, anti-union laws, less accessible education, and trade policies that allow capital to flee to low-wage jurisdictions have all contributed to increased income inequality. We know this empirically, because the post -World War 2 policies of expanded public services, increased access to public education, adequate tax bases and progressive labour policies resulted in decades that saw the closing of income gaps and greater income equality.

Ironically, the growth in income inequality has come during a time of increasing global production and unprecedented technological progress. However, rather than benefitting all those participating in its creation, global wealth has been disproportionately captured by national and international elites.

The political and economic consequences of this cannot be overstated.

The working poor have been thrust into chronic economic insecurity and its attendant loss of personal control and self-identity. The middle class is evaporating, and we have torn the social contract with our young people that promised them that hard work and education are the keys to rewarding careers. Taken together, these create the conditions where anger, intolerance and xenophobia take root and can easily be exploited.

We know that tackling income inequality will benefit our economies. But we must recognize that taking serious measures are essential to the development of stable societies and well-functioning democracies.

My colleagues, the principles of freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law are the cornerstones of this Assembly. But they are not meaningful when people are struggling to survive or perceive their societies to be rooted in economic injustice.

So let us leave here committed to doing everything we can to target and reverse income inequality in our home nations.

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