When I was in Grade 5 back in the late 1970s, my teacher chose me to represent the NDP in our school mock election, and as Ed Broadbent, I wooped Pierre Trudeau and Joe Clark–at least, that’s how I remember it. Years later, I read a great exchange that went something like this:
Reporter: Mr. Broadbent, you attended the London School of Economics?
Broadbent: Yes I did.
Reporter: And Prime Minister Trudea also attended LSE, is that right?
Broadbent: Yes, that’s true too.
Reporter: So, tell me Mr. Broadbent, how is that you came back from LSE a New Democrat, and the Prime Minister came back a Liberal.
Broadbent: Well, the Prime Minister was never a very good student.
Baddum, dum! That exchange stuck with me and years later, when the opportunity presented itself to do graduate studies in law at LSE, I jumped at it. So, I confess, to long having a great respect for Mr. Broadbent.
Today, Ed was in the news again. He was promoting a survey his Broadbent Institute has just released, which found that the vast majority of Canadians, representing supporters of all three national political parties, are concerned about growing income inequality in Canada. Broadbent says that high income inequality and the fact that the greatest share of income today goes to a relatively few high income Canadians is ‘the defining issue of our time”. He argues that the shift in income distribution from the middle class to the upper income minority is a result of policy decisions our politicians have made since the 1990s. These policy choices include lower taxes, particularly for the wealthy and corporations, and cuts to social benefits.
Watch this video clip of a clay Ed. (I love his flannel shirt and eyebrows!)
Ed refers to earlier generations that fought for strong employment laws that raised incomes, but notes that since the 1990s, there has been an ongoing policy shift away from strong protective employment laws. The concerns Ed raises should be of great interest to young university students, since unlike most generations before you in Canada, the trend suggests that many of you will not to better than your parents. Ed argues that this is the result of public policy choices that romantize the ‘free market’ and demonize government regulation and collective action.
When you study labour and employment law this year, challenge yourself to think about whether you agree or disagree with Ed, and to consider what role work laws play in contributing to or reducing the income inequality gap.