CUPE BC was proud to sponsor West Coast LEAF’s 24th Annual Equality Breakfast celebrating International Women’s Day. Keynote speaker was Canadian journalist and best-selling author Linda McQuaig.
She addressed a full hall, speaking on equality and social justice. McQuaig praised the work done by West Coast LEAF. She spoke about the injustices caused by our current taxation system, referencing her latest book, “The Problem with Billionaires” – co-written with Neil Brooks, a tax scholar and human rights activist.
McQuaig told the audience that an extreme level of inequality exists in North America today because of a “massive transfer from the middle and lower classes to those at the top.” This level of inequality is unique among advanced nations of the world.
Looking back to the 1920’s, the elite also had tremendous power and dominance. But the Great Depression of the 1930s created “a public anger that changed the face of society” when a middle class was created through the empowerment of labour. The average income of workers was doubling every 20 years and people expected to have a better life than the previous generation.
By the mid-70’s neo-conservatism rolled back many gains that were made. “Virtually all income growth in the last 30 years has gone to the top one per cent. The middle class kept pace but only by working twice as hard, said McQuaig.
McQuaig challenged the economic doctrine that natural forces determine the marketplace. She explained, “Changes in laws governing executive stock options have allowed their salaries to soar. The groups who have power determine those laws.”
McQuaig noted that although it’s true that the rich donate to hospitals and universities, it creates a problem. “When we pay through taxes, we all get to decide collectively how that money is spent. When they pay through philanthropy, the rich get to decide.”
She cited an example from Toronto where a major donor to a university wanted the front door of the building to be reserved for senior faculty and their corporate guests, with others being required to use the back door. McQuaig called this a “repulsive vision of elitism and inequality.”
McQuaig called for a return to a progressive tax system. She said the good news is that Canadians still care about equality and preserving universal access to health care and education. When asked if they would prefer a tax cut or reinvesting the money in health care and education, Canadians choose protecting our social structure.
“It’s time we started fighting back to make this an equal society,” said McQuaig. “It’s time we make this a society where everyone goes through the front door.”
The West Coast Legal and Education Fund’s mandate is to achieve quality by changing historic patterns of systemic discrimination against women through BC-based equality rights litigation, law reform and public legal education.