How will the House of Commons look at Income Inequality in Canada?

Screen Shot 2013-04-23 at 9.56.24 PMEveryone has been talking about it: academics for at least a couple of decades; think-tanks and international organizations like the OECD and the IMF as well; and even—at least since the Occupy Wall Street movement went camping—the average taxpayer.

And now, after having adopted a motion introduced almost a year ago by Scott Brison, the honourable Member of Parliament for Kings-Hants, the House of Commons has charged its Standing Committee on Finance to also talk about it: yes, Virginia, Committee hearings on “Income Inequality in Canada” have begun.

Can there be a topic that is least likely to garner consensus among our Members of Parliament than taxes and inequality? Little wonder they are so late to the conversation.

On Thursday the Committee held the second of at least three hearings. Among its terms of reference is to “examine best practices that reduce income inequality and improve per capita gross domestic product.” If the written briefs posted on its website and some of the witness statements to date are any indication, the Committee has its homework cut out for it. At first look these are lofty of principle, short on prescription.

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Diane Finley and Rebecca Blank meet Adam Smith: moving poverty lines are in

President Obama appointed Rebecca Blank—a capable, no-nonsense, PhD in economics, and a former Dean at the University of Michigan—to his new administration, and told her to answer a simple question: how should the United States measure poverty?

Diane Finley, the Conservative government’s Minister responsible for social policy, is not exactly Canada’s Becky Blank. She might certainly be capable, and she might certainly be no-nonsense, but to be honest she doesn’t seem to have a lot in common with the American academic turned policy-maker: except, of course, that in Canada Ms. Finley is ultimately the person responsible for poverty measurement.

Both women have pulled off quiet revolutions by recognizing that the poverty line should evolve over time: as the things needed to participate normally in society change, so should the poverty line.

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