Blog | April 11, 2013

By DREW ANDERSON in ffwd weekly, April 10, 2013Canadian journalist Linda McQuaig isn't the kind of person to pull punches. This is a woman whose work helped send Ontario lobbyist Patti Starr to jail. Conrad Black said she should be horsewhipped after McQuaig dug into his financial dealings in the U.S. Her regular columns for the Toronto Star are biting, witty and, thanks to the issues, infuriating.McQuaig will be in Calgary tonight, speaking at the Parkdale United Church at 7 p.m. at the invite of Public Interest Alberta, speaking about inequality, both in terms of economics and influence.Her latest book, The Trouble With Billionaires, looks at the rise of the ultra rich and what it means for society (spoiler alert: it's not good)."The States are the most extreme," says McQuaig by phone as she waits to board a plane. "This is basically an Anglo-American phenomenon, this rise of extreme inequality. You see it in the U.S., Great Britain and Canada. It's definitely the most extreme in the United States, but we're very much following that path."People often think, 'oh, that's just the way it is in the global economy.' That's not true at all. It is nowhere near this exteme level of inequality throughout the western part of the world."You can sense the frustration in McQuaig as she talks about the lack of evidence that low taxes and low spending is the best way for a society to function, and how Canada is unflinchingly following that road. Although we often hear about the U.S. and its wealth gap, McQuaig says the same patterns are showing here, with a vast disparity between the top and bottom in society."The statistics for Canada are really quite dramatic," she says. "If you take the share of national income going to the top one per cent in Canada, it has doubled in the past 30 years. If you go even higher up the income scale, to the top 0.1 per cent, you find the share of national income has actually quintupled in the last 30 years. The higher up you go, the more extreme the gains have been."She points out that this isn't just an economic issue. The rise in income inequality is directly related to a rise in political influence and power as well. For evidence, she points to the need to address climate change and the stonewalling of the energy sector.Naturally, talk turns to Alberta, the poster child for neo-conservativism and petro wealth in Canada. It's a place that stumps McQuaig. She points to the higher royalties and savings that were established under Peter Lougheed and gutted by Ralph Klein and his heirs (Angola collects higher royalties than Alberta just so you know)."The idea that you should be worried about deficits now, or imposing austerity, it's just because you've absolutely refused to collect decent amounts of tax from your wealthy elite and corporate elite," she says."What did I see somewhere the other day that was making the point that it's not the low corporate tax rates that bring corporate investment to Alberta, it's the oil."The big question, however, and one that many in Alberta struggle with, is why isn't something done about it? How can the government claim poverty while not collecting a decent return for the province's fossil fuel wealth?"The thing that always astonishes me is that the people of Alberta are not more enraged at that," says McQuaig."You tell me. What is that acceptance all about?"Um. Good question.Read the article at ffwd weekly.