As world leaders, business tycoons and celebrities descend on a ritzy Swiss ski resort for the World Economic Forum this week, a new Oxfam report says that eight men own the same wealth as the poorest half of the world’s population.

Oxfam is also sounding the alarm in Canada, where 33 individuals – all men – now own a total of $112-billion. The two richest Canadian billionaires own $33-billion between them, which is more wealth than the bottom 30 per cent of the Canadian population.

“The inequality crisis is bigger than we feared,” said Lauren Ravon, director of policy and campaigns for Oxfam Canada.

“We’re seeing a trend where Canada is unfortunately catching up with this inequality momentum that’s building in other countries … There’s no reason why this needs to be in a country where we do have governance, where we have taxation systems in place, where we have public policies that support public-care services.”

The annual report, timed to coincide with the World Economic Forum, uses data from the Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report and the Forbes World Billionaires List. It examines how big businesses and the world’s superrich are fuelling the inequality crisis by driving down wages, using their power to influence politics and dodging taxes.

It found that between 1988 and 2011, the incomes of the world’s poorest 10 per cent increased by just $65, while the incomes of the richest 1 per cent grew by $11,800. Over the same time period in Canada, the increase of incomes for the bottom 10 per cent represented only 3 per cent of total income growth, while the increase of incomes of the top 10 per cent accounted for 29 per cent.

According to Oxfam, the world could see its first trillionaire in 25 years if the superrich continue to benefit from the “highly secretive industry of wealth management.”

The report calls for a more “human economy” that works for all people, and not just the fortunate few. In order to achieve this, Oxfam recommends that governments put a stop to tax dodging, level the playing field by increasing taxes on corporations and high incomes, and set aside funds to invest in public services, education and job creation. The anti-poverty charity also says governments must ensure workers are paid a living wage, put an end to the gender wage gap and remove barriers to women’s economic progress, such as unpaid care work.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will not attend the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, this week. He cancelled his planned trip to the invite-only event after facing criticism for unethical fundraisers where attendees paid $1,500 to spend time with him in private homes of wealthy donors. His press secretary, Cameron Ahmad, has insisted the decision to skip the forum had nothing to do with the possible negative reaction from Canadians about seeing him rub elbows with the world’s elite.

Rather, Mr. Trudeau is taking a cross-country trip where he is holding town halls and meetings with Canadians. He kicked off the tour last week with stops across Ontario.

As the Prime Minister continues his tour next week, Oxfam is calling on him to uphold his government’s commitment to shared economic prosperity for all. Mr. Trudeau campaigned in the 2015 federal election on a promise to strengthen the middle class and promote inclusive growth.

“As Trudeau meets with Canadians in communities across the country over the next week, we urge him to keep issues of gender inequality and poverty top of mind. Women make up a huge proportion of people living in poverty, both here in Canada and around the world. They contribute significantly to the economy but are getting shortchanged by economic growth,” Ms. Ravon said.

The Oxfam report estimated it will take 170 years for women globally to be paid the same as men. In Canada, women are paid less than men in 90 per cent of jobs tracked by Statistics Canada.

Ms. Ravon said the government can take a first step to close the inequality gap by making its upcoming federal budget – expected in late February or March – work for women.

“A feminist federal budget would prioritize progressive taxation, increase the proportion of total government spending on public services and social protection to lift people out of poverty, encourage living wages, close the gender pay gap, and increase the international aid budget to make our global commitments to women’s rights a reality.”

Michelle Zilio
OTTAWA — The Globe and Mail
Published Sunday, Jan. 15, 2017 7:50PM EST
Last updated Monday, Jan. 16, 2017 8:12AM EST