These rich folks want their inheritances taxed!

A call for justice from members of the Resource Movement
November 1, 2019

We are living with vast discrepancies between rich and poor in Canada. That much is undeniable. According to the Broadbent Institute, 10% of Canadians held almost half (47.9%) of all wealth in 2012. Meanwhile, around one in seven people (about 14%) live in poverty, according to Canada Without Poverty. The gap between those with and without wealth is stark. According to a 2018 CCPA report, the wealthiest 87 families in Canada hold about 4,448 times as much wealth as the Canadian average. This gap is only growing.

For many rich people, wealth comes not only from wages, but also from capital gains (through owning and trading stocks and bonds) and intergenerational transfers of money and land. The latter was often accumulated at the expense of marginalized communities such as Indigenous peoples, whose stolen resources and land continue to generate wealth for largely non-Indigenous people and their families. These forms of wealth persist (and grow) over generations and are not taxed as progressively as income in Canada. Inequality snowballs over time.

We personally have experienced this gap mostly from the wealthy side of the equation. And we do not believe that the concentration of money in the hands of just a small number of people is fair or beneficial to society. That is why we are members of a group called Resource Movement. Founded in 2017, our movement’s mission is to unite young people with money and class privilege around a strategy to equitably distribute wealth, land and power. Resource Movement (a project of Tides Canada) was inspired by the U.S.-based Resource Generation and currently includes over 100 members.

Stark contrasts in wealth accumulation are fairly common around the world today, but they are not inevitable. Wealth gaps are the result of social and political choices: choices like prioritizing tax breaks for the rich and expanding fossil fuel production over increasing the number of people with access to child care and expanding the availability of affordable housing. We believe, as individuals who are or have been part of wealthy families and communities, that no one needs the levels of wealth that some people in Canada currently command.

The level of inequality we are experiencing today is a threat to us all. Indeed, several recent prominent works, such as Capital in the Twenty-First Century, Ages of Discord, The Spirit Level, The Inner Level, and Inequality: What Can Be Done?, have stressed that disparities in wealth and power—like those we experience here in Canada—tend only to grow more and more extreme over time. This leads to increasingly drastic consequences: high rates of poverty and immiseration, polarization and political gridlock, increased crime and social and domestic violence.

In addition to opposing inequality for its unfairness, we don't want to live in a world with these material disparities, hierarchies and power differentials between people. We see how wealth inequality negatively affects people we know, our relationships, and ourselves.

Fortunately, there are some compelling ideas out there to close the wealth gap. Many other societies, present and past, have turned these ideas into action. Promising measures include estate taxes on properties worth several millions of dollars, a wealth tax for the super-rich, restoring higher income tax brackets for those earning extremely high salaries, eliminating tax loopholes and cracking down on tax evasion.

Implementing any of these measures would begin to redress the stark wealth inequality we are living with. Implementing them all would go even further. Ultimately, we want to see steps taken to build a world where wealth and power are shared, and Indigenous land rights are respected.

Many members of Resource Movement expect to receive large inheritances, so we are particularly supportive of the reintroduction of a federal inheritance tax—a form of wealth tax that exists in all other G7 nations. Recent calculations from the 2019 Alternative Federal Budget suggest that a 45% tax on inherited estates valued at over $5 million would generate $2 billion of federal revenue.

Aimed only at multimillion-dollar inheritances, this tool would make a dent in Canada’s inequality while raising revenue that could, for example, begin to address the climate crisis or provide affordable child care and housing for all of us. We see this as an easy and necessary first step to closing Canada’s immense and growing wealth gap.

Daniel Hoyer is a historian and project manager of the Seshat: Global History Databank, and a part-time professor at George Brown College's Centre for Preparatory & Liberal Studies. Lindsay Wiginton grew up, lives and works as a transportation planner on the traditional territories of the Haudenosaunee, the Huron-Wendat and the Anishinaabe Peoples. David Gray-Donald lives in Regina, Treaty 4 territory, but grew up in Toronto where he attended Upper Canada College. He is the publisher of Briarpatch Magazine and writes about climate justice. Bronwyn Oatley, an organizer based in Tkaronto, is an early inheritor committed to fighting for a more equitable distribution of wealth, land and power. Claire Trottier, an assistant professor at McGill University, won the lottery of life by being born in a wealthy family. Sylvie Trottier is a mother, environmentalist and member of a wealthy family who is committed to a sustainable and equitable future. Jon McPhedran Waitzer is a white, jewish, queer & genderqueer settler living in Tio'tia:ke (Montreal), on the traditional territories of the Kanienʼkehá꞉ka. Selin Jessa lives in Montreal/Tio'tia:ke, unceded territory of the Kanien'keha:ka, where she is a PhD student at McGill University. The authors are all members of Resource Movement (see Contributors page for more about each of them.)