Increased taxes could close the income gap, experts
By Mallory Clarkson/London Community News
It was apparent the Occupy London movement was alive and well Tuesday evening (Dec. 13) when a panel of experts discussed income disparity at a City Symposium meeting, said one activist.
In fact, Eric Shepperd said he believes the event is part of the local movement’s second phase.
“To me, this is education. This is educating 300 people, possibly more, that haven’t heard this information before,” Shepperd said following three panelists speaking to a packed house about local, provincial and national solutions to the growing gap between the rich and the poor during the event at the Wolf Performance Hall in the London Public Library central branch. “Many of them may not have supported the Occupy movement before, but tonight, we’ve gained supporters.”
Shepperd is also a member of the Citizen Initiative to Assist Occupy London that was formed late-November to get London residents involved in creating actual initiatives to deal with issues such as poverty, homelessness and mental health issues. The idea of the initiative is to form citizen groups that will work on bringing forward policy suggestions that city council can then promote to the provincial and federal governments.
Income disparity was one of the key messages shared while protestors occupied Victoria Park for two and a half weeks earlier this year. But the topic has become a worldwide discussion, Shepperd said.
“There’s been a growing problem and that growing problem has been seen everywhere, but now that this is happening, this movement is happening, we’re starting to see it break out into conversation in the world at large,” he said. “The nice thing is that people are talking to each other.
“There have always been people in high places talking about these things, in board rooms, with task forces and things like that, but now it’s person to person, it’s individuals on an individual basis having a conversations about big ideas and that’s what’s truly important.”
While some activists feared that message, among others, would be tossed aside as tents and belongings were removed from the park on Nov. 9, one panelist said that even having conversations on such topics can effect change.
“I think what Occupy shows us is that if you care, show that you care,” said Trish Hennessy, director of strategic issues for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. “Get involved, get in your community, talk to one another.
“What comes out of it, what we decide to build our society into is a result of a process that I think we’ve long been ignoring.”
Hennessy was joined by Michael Shapcott, Affordable Housing and Social Innovation director at the Wellesley Institute, and Mike Moffatt, an economist in the Business, Economics and Public Policy group at the Richard Ivey School of Business, to complete the panel.
Not only did Hennessy give a history lesson on poverty and income inequality during her presentation, she talked about past solutions. With the 1920s as the launching point, she quickly went into the Depression era, where a potential solution to today’s problem could be found: Shared prosperity.
She said not only did citizens band together and contribute back into society when possible, but she said government intervention did the same through the redistribution of wealth. Those were incorporated into the solutions she offered to participants on Tuesday, which were looking at jobs at a livable wage, re-evaluating public services and examining the tax system.
But, she said change can happen through events like the City Symposium that engage the public.
“I think community meetings like this, where we’re together in a room talking about what the solutions are (important),” she said. “Talking about topics like taxation, that are not easy discussions to have, are politically difficult promises to make and yet it’s how you make the change.”
Moffatt also spoke about how changes to the taxation system could decrease the gap. But, rather than just looking locally, he compared Canada and the United States systems to that of Denmark and Sweden.
Moffatt argued if taxes increased (with a focus on sales tax), more money could be pumped into welfare or social assistance programs, and poorer families could get better returns.
“It’s a matter of convincing the public that these programs have value and the only way to pay for these programs is through higher taxes,” Moffatt said. “It would be everybody that would be paying more in taxes, but that money would end up going to the working poor.”
He also argued another way to decrease the inequality is to get corporations to pay more taxes through rates and by decreasing the number of incentives offered to businesses.
Glen Pearson, member of the Citizen Initiative to Assist Occupy London, concluded the symposium by saying this is one of many avenues citizens can get engaged in discussions surrounding income inequality.
The London Food Bank director and former MP said the faith community is coming together to see what change they can effect on Jan. 15 at St. Paul’s Cathedral on Richmond Street. A citizen engagement event will also be held on Jan. 29 on what to do about things like the unemployment rate or Ontario Works, as well as local and provincial budget processes are in the works.
Pearson added these are means to get people voicing their opinions.
“I think there’s a lot more to us than people have given us credit for,” he said. “I’m hoping that all of us will show up at these various venues and weigh in and let the people who make decisions understand that it is a democracy, after all, and it’s time for us to show it.”