Trish Hennessy Presents

Trish Hennessy
Notes by Tina Agrell

Carol Brayman introduced Trish Hennessy.
Trish Hennessy is founder and director of the  Income Inequality Project  of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.  Her undergraduate degree was in social work and she then studied journalism.  The CCPA is perhaps best known for its excellent research on the income gap.

Trish Hennessy.  
     I would just like to point out that although your program says Hennessey, my name is spelt without the final e, just Hennessy, like the cognac!
     I wonder whether you realized when you were planning this symposium that your first three speakers would all have a background in journalism.  Perhaps we need a new organization - Journalists for Social Justice.
     CCPA has just opened an Ontario Provincial office.  We are able to be independent of governments because we get our funding through individual memberships.

     Our research has shown that lately income inequality has been growing in Canada, both in good times and in bad. Historically, when times were bad, the gap widened suddenly, but when the economy improved, the gap closed again and things evened up.  Nowadays that self-righting does not happen.

Income Gains
     Currently the richest 1% in Canada take 32% of the income share.
     In the 1920s during the Roaring twenties, before the Stock Market crash, the richest 1% took 14% of income share.  Historically this was the income gap at its widest.
     In the 1950s/60’s the richest 1% took 8% of the income share.  This was the time of the narrowest income gap.
     During the Depression era with its mass poverty and riots, it was not possible to “go it alone”.   Trish's mother, who grew up on a farm in the prairies, described how delighted they were to have mandarin oranges at Christmas – not just because they had the luxury of fruit in winter but because they could use the green tissue wrappers as toilet paper and it was much softer than the pages of the Sears catalogue! 
     People realized that they had more power if they acted collectively to provide supports and services.  The post-war social consensus reformed the tax laws to redistribute income and led to the growth of shared prosperity and a substantial middle class in Canada.  Home ownership increased. This shared prosperity reached its apex in the late 1970s and early 1980’s. 

Market Incomes
     What you get paid before taxes and deductions.
     Since 1980 market incomes of the richest have grown 31.4% 
     Middle incomes dropped by 0.3% and those of the poorest dropped 11.1%
     Internationally, compared with other OECD countries, Canada now ranks 12th out of 14 in terms of income disparity and the pattern of income distribution is starting to look like that in the US.
     An excellent book on the subject is The Spirit Level by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett. According to the authors, more income inequality makes countries meaner, with more crime, sicker and more stressed populations, citizens who have less hope and less trust in authorities. 
      At the last count in Canada, only 10% trust politicians and only 6% trust the mass media.
     Trish showed the You Tube video of a research experiment in which two monkeys were given different rewards for completing the same task.  The disadvantaged monkey very rapidly demonstrated his disgust and distrust.
Trish noted that 71% of Canadians feel that income inequality undermines Canadian values.  The answer may lie in reforming tax laws to redistribute income.  This will require some educating of the public on why it is important to pay taxes.  
     Trish showed a one minute film entitled “A Day in the Life of Your Tax Dollar” which did just that. 
     Trish left early in the afternoon to take her film to the CLIFF film festival, where, as she afterwards reported, They included it just before they screened the new documentary We Are Wisconsin, then had me on a panel to discuss that documentary and my short video promoting the virtue of paying taxes. It led to a rich exchange with a fairly engaged audience.

View A Day in the Life of Your Tax Dollar