MLI's next Great Canadian Debate "Wealth has too much power in Canada"  is May 9.  Below is Jack Granatstein's - moderator for this debate - primer piece on the issue and the debate.  To register for tickets click here.

Money talks: Debating the Canadian income gap

By J. L. Granatstein | May 2, 2013,

Are the rich getting richer and the poor getting … shafted? The public conversation about the role of wealth in Canadian public life grows ever more heated.
There was the Occupy movement, squatting in the centres of a number of Canadian cities and claiming to represent the 99 per cent of the population whose interests were, the Occupiers said, thwarted by the wealthy, powerful one per cent.

There is the fury over offshore bank accounts used by some of the very rich to avoid paying taxes to the federal and provincial governments. There are the huge salaries and bonuses of bank presidents and the chairs of corporate boards, and the ever-swelling profits of some of these companies. There are imported low-paid workers taking the jobs of Canadians and fattening corporate returns. And there are the Porsches and Mercedes that fill the streets of downtown Toronto, Calgary, Vancouver and Montreal.

The public's dissatisfaction with this extravagant display of power, wealth, and corruption is evident everywhere in urban Canada, and politicians can and do play upon it.

But how justified is the public's anger? Does wealth really have too much power in this country? Or does a rising tide of prosperity, even in a time of stagnant growth, lift all boats?

Are the disparities between rich and poor truly greater today than they were fifty or ten or five years ago? We live in a nation where income tax is steeply graduated and where the well-off must pay Ottawa a very substantial portion of their income, payments that support public welfare, the rising costs of medicare, and all the manifold services of government. If the wealthy really had too much power, surely that would not be the case.

Public dissatisfaction with this extravagant display of power, wealth, and corruption is evident everywhere in urban Canada, and politicians can and do play upon it. But how justified is the public's anger?Moreover, Canada is a land where almost everyone has a smart phone, a flat-screen TV, an automobile, indoor plumbing and working kitchen appliances. Almost all Canadians have enough to eat and a roof over their heads. Great as the disparity between the richest and poorest might be, the benefits of living in a free market economy seem evident to most of us.

Many do not believe this to be the case, of course, and we can be absolutely certain that the next federal election will pit those who want to rein in the corporate elite and all their presumed perks against those who tout the great virtues of the free market capitalist system.

The New Democratic Party of Thomas Mulcair might be swearing off socialism in its party constitution, but it will still rail against the abuses of our economic system. And Stephen Harper and the Tories, while pledging to fix broken parts of the economy, will certainly defend capitalism. Where Justin Trudeau will come down remains uncertain for the moment, but the Liberal party, creator of most of Canada's welfare system, has always worked closely with capital and wealthy Canadians; Justin's father was no exception.

Thus there is plenty of room for debate on the role of wealth in Canada, and a debate there shall be. On May 9 at 7 p.m. at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, the Macdonald Laurier Institute's Great Canadian Debates series will present Armine Yalnizyan of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives to argue the affirmative case for the resolution that 'wealth has too much power in Canada.' Opposing her will be William Watson of McGill University's Department of Economics.

Personally and professionally committed to putting the "public" back into public policy, Armine Yalnizyan is a seasoned debater on CBC Radio, on the Lang and O'Leary Exchange, and in the online business pages. A strong supporter of the free market, Bill Watson frequents the same television studios, writes regularly in the National Post and the Ottawa Citizen and was the Citizen's former editorial page editor.

Will wealth prevail? Or will power in Canada be shared more equitably? Come join the debate.

This event is the latest in the Macdonald-Laurier Institute's Great Canadian Debates series. For ticket information and schedules, go here.

J.L. Granatstein is a co-founder of The Great Canadian Debates series. He is a historian, author, educator and defence and foreign policy commentator. Granatstein has held the Canada Council's Killam senior fellowship twice (1982-4, 1991-3), was editor of the Canadian Historical Review (1981-1984), and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada (1982- ). The Royal Society awarded him the J.B. Tyrell Historical Gold Medal (1992) "for outstanding work in the history of Canada," and his book "The Generals" (1993), won the J.W. Dafoe Prize and the UBC Medal for Canadian Biography.

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