Madam Speaker, Canadian billionaires hold nearly four and a half thousand times the wealth of the average Canadian family. By 10 a.m. on January 2 this year, top CEOs in Canada made as much money as the average Canadian worker would earn in the entire year. Unlike those average workers who pay their taxes and contribute to all the infrastructure and services we depend on, Canada's wealthiest citizens are not paying their fair share.
What is wrong with this picture? Why are some people hoarding obscene amounts of wealth, while so many are struggling to make ends meet in the country?
During the COVID-19 lockdown this past spring, Canadians across the country stood on their balconies and doorsteps and banged pots and pans to show their appreciation for front-line workers. Health care workers and first responders worked through the lockdown, separated from their families and risking their own health and safety for our communities.
We also banged pots and pans for the essential service workers who were keeping grocery stores open and shelves stocked during a difficult and frightening time. Most of these service workers earn a modest income at best and many earn minimum wage. They had to travel to and from work during the pandemic, often on public transit, and then serve the public all day long, with the stress of the pandemic hanging over their heads. After seniors in long-term care facilities, low-wage workers, who live in crowded housing and rely on public transit to get to their service jobs, were most affected by COVID-19.
While these essential workers in our service economy continued to work and while millions of Canadians lost their jobs and felt the economic stress of the pandemic, the rich got much richer. According to Forbes' annual billionaires list, Canada's 20 richest billionaires increased their wealth by $37 billion during the first six months of this pandemic. Let us think about that. Twenty Canadian billionaires increased their wealth by $37 billion during the most economically catastrophic six months in Canadian history.
Two of those billionaires own Canada's largest grocery store chains. Galen Weston's fortune grew by $1.6 billion and Jim Pattison increased his wealth by $1.7 billion. During the pandemic, many low-wage workers, including workers in the grocery stores owned by Mr. Weston and Mr. Pattison, received a short-lived $2 an hour top-up as danger pay. When that $2 an hour wage increase was terminated by those grocery chains, the stock value of those companies shot up and Mr. Weston and Mr. Pattison reaped the benefits.
Tax dollars pay for the public infrastructure and services on which these billionaires rely. Their companies use our roads, bridges, water and sewer systems. They benefit from an educated workforce paid for by tax dollars. The public transit system that carries their workers to and from the job is built and subsidized by tax dollars. They benefit from our public health care system because they do not have to pay for private health insurance for their workers.
When successive Liberal and Conservative governments have cut taxes, it has predominantly benefited the ultra-wealthy. It is time to reverse that trend and introduce a wealth tax. Keep taxes reasonable for working people, but increase taxes on the ultra-wealthy and institute inheritance tax on the transfer of large fortunes. If we had greater income equality in the country, we could easily afford the social safety net that Canadians deserve: universal pharmacare, universal dental care, universal child care, free post-secondary tuition and a guaranteed livable income so we could eliminate poverty.
Canadians deserve better.