Canada's poor performance on income inequality, poverty and environment is very troubling, says NUPGE

A new report by the Conference Board of Canada says Canada is falling short in addressing these critical issues. 

Ottawa (05 Feb. 2013) - "Canada's poor performance in addressing income inequality, poverty and the environment is very troubling," says James Clancy, National President of the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE). "The failure to tackle these issues has profound implications in terms of fairness, opportunity and security for all Canadians." 

A new report by the Conference Board of Canada, called How Canada Performs: A report card on Canada, evaluates Canada’s quality of life and compares it to a number of peer countries. 

The report examines data from 17 countries across six performance categories and issues a report card on each one: Economy, Innovation, Environment, Education and Skills, Health, and Society.

When it comes to the Society Report Card, Canada gets an uninspiring “B” grade on overall social performance. Canada’s middle-of-the-pack ranking means "it is not living up to its reputation or its potential", says the Conference Board.

Clancy says that what is most alarming in the Society Report Card is Canada's low ranking when it comes to income inequality and poverty.

"Canada ranked a "C" on income inequality (the growing gap between the rich and poor) and ranked 12th out of the 17 countries studied."

"For decades, the richest group of Canadians has increased its share of total national income, while the poorest and middle-income groups has lost share," says Clancy. "Income inequality is the biggest social, economic and moral issue facing Canada and our failure to tackle this problem comes with serious consequences."

Clancy says the consequences of income inequality include:

  • Poor economic performance: You can't build a strong, stable and sustainable economy with a shrinking middle class and a majority of workers facing stagnant wages and losing good jobs while the cost of living is rising;
  • Social and health costs: Lower life expectancy rates; higher infant mortality rates; more violent crime and imprisonment; more cases of mental illness and addictions; lower literacy and math scores;
  • Social divisions: Less social capital (e.g. less trust, empathy, mutual responsibility, social connectedness); social cohesion breaks down and a country becomes unable to deal with the most pressing collective problems it is facing; and
  • Undermines democracy: A tiny elite effectively purchase laws, regulations and policies that work in its favour; people lose faith in democracy, political and civic participation decreases, and people lose confidence in public institutions.

"We've been raising awareness about the problem of income inequality for a number of years through our All Together Now! campaign," says Clancy.

NUPGE has been highlighting four main causes of growing income inequality in Canada: the attack on labour rights; the absence of a modern industrial strategy; the lack of tax fairness; and cuts to public services.

"Unless this situation is reversed, Canada will continue to be pulled apart at the seams as we become a radically less equal and unfair nation," says Clancy.

Linked to inequality is Canada’s high poverty rate. The Conference Board report ranks Canada among the worst of the 17 countries the report examines.

The report notes that in Canada, between the mid-1990s and the late 2000s:

  • The child poverty rate increased from 12.8 per cent to 15.1 per cent; Canada scores a “C” grade in the report and ranks 15th out of 17 peer countries.
  • The working-age poverty rate rose from 9.4 per cent to 11.1 per cent; Canada earns a “D” grade in the report and ranks 15th among 17 countries. 

"These poverty rates are unacceptable for a country as wealthy as Canada, and the rise in child poverty is especially disturbing," says Clancy. 

Another area of concern raised in the HCP Report is the environment. Canada receives a “C” grade on environmental performance and ranks 15th out of 17 peer countries.

The Conference Board says Canada must "do more to lower greenhouse gas emissions, to use its freshwater resources more wisely, and to reduce waste."

"In the successful societies of the future, the highest quality of life will be generated by a more equitable economy and a healthier environment," says Clancy. "Canada must be less wasteful of our natural resources, take more preventive environmental action, and close the green innovation gap between us and the rest of the developed world." 

"The trend lines identified by the Conference Board on income inequality, poverty and the environment are not inevitable, they are preventable," says Clancy. "It's all about choices and we need our governments to make better choices by putting people and nature at the centre of their public policy agenda." 

More information:

How Canada Performs: A Report Card on Canada


The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 340,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE