Quebecers are better off than Albertans? According to the Canadian Payroll Association, the province that likes to moan the most about taxes and employment is actually feeling far better about the economy than other Canadian regions, where a new survey suggests nearly half of the working population is living from paycheque to paycheque.
The proportion rises to 59 per cent in the Atlantic provinces, but only 38 per cent of Quebec workers (vs 50 per cent of Albertans) surveyed said they’d have trouble paying their bills if their pay was delayed by a week.
The same survey said we’re much less preoccupied with the search for a higher paycheque (only 20 per cent cite it as a top priority, vs. 28 per cent of Canadians) and more concerned about achieving a better work-life balance (58 vs. 48 per cent).
We apparently feel much less overwhelmed by personal debt (22 vs. 39 per cent) yet are more pessimistic about the chances of an improvement in the economy (30 vs. 36 per cent in the ROC, 45 per cent in Alberta).
Unfortunately, the survey didn’t ask how Canadian employees felt about the impact of burkinis on their ability to feed the family, to the great disappointment of François Legault’s Coalition Avenir Québec.
Of course, living in a province where “only” 38 per cent of the working population say they’re living cheque-to-cheque is hardly cause for celebration. And even the concept of cheque-to-cheque living creates a falsely optimistic picture of most people’s financial situation, given that average debt across the country represents nearly $1.65 for every $1 of disposable income, a ratio that continues to grow. So while we may not worry about our debt as much as other Canadians, our debt ratio is only marginally lower than the average.
As well, the poll only surveyed people who actually have a paycheque. Once we start counting people who are subsisting on welfare incomes, unemployment benefits, pensions and savings, we’re mostly talking about people whose income often doesn’t even cover their expenses.
This is a situation that we know is going to get worse and worse as the population ages. People are already putting off retirement for years in recognition that their savings and pensions are nowhere near enough to sustain them (only 11 per cent of those surveyed said they had put aside more than half their retirement target — 75 per cent said they’d banked less than one-quarter of their goal).
Meanwhile, the fastest growing component of public expenditures — health care — will continue to bloom along with the Boomers who are shifting their demographic mass from gainful employment to gurneys and geriatric care.
If there’s a silver lining in all this debt, it’s reserved for the most part to the people who make their money from it. Canada’s banks and financial institutions amass higher and higher profits every quarter regardless of the state of the economy. It’s almost pointless now to add the the term “record-high” to news headlines about bank profits, since anything less would be greeted with clarion calls of an impending economic disaster rather than a signal that banks have taken less money than usual from the pockets of borrowers and consumers. Fuelled by a 36-per-cent boost of profits from its “wealth management” activities (motto: helping the rich get richer), the Royal Bank announced a (record high) $2.7-billion profit in its latest quarter, with “rival” Toronto-Dominion not far behind at $2.36-billion.
Although world economies continue to grow, often while draining communal resources, the wealth “created” has been siphoned off in massively disproportionate quantities by a tiny fraction of the population. It is estimated that the top 1-per-cent control half the planet’s wealth, with the bottom 71 per cent of the population sharing just 3 per cent among them. Even as awareness of the inequity grows, the wealthiest people on the planet continue to amass a greater and greater share of new wealth, contributing to an ever-increasing gap. Even modest attempts to adjust the system for a more equitable redistribution of wealth or a fairer split of the tax burden is met with fierce opposition from those with vested interests. Canadian banks, for example, didn’t even bother to hide their disdain last year when a Quebec government commission asked them to testify about the problem of tax avoidance and tax havens: they flat-out refused to attend.
It’s hard to imagine how much farther we can travel down a road where ever-growing pockets of the population are asked to accept cheque-to-cheque subsistence and burgeoning debt as economic elites crow about their roles as wealth “creators.”
If we don’t start talking now about serious and significant change in how we can manage our collective wealth to reduce inequity, we could soon find ourselves facing either collapse or revolt.
Maybe we should survey the 1-per-cent to see which option they prefer. ■