The One Percent In Canada

November 18, 2011

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The real point of the Occupy movement… is that the powerful and wealthy ruling class in Canada – perhaps 10 or 15 per cent, not 1 per cent, of the population – have been appropriating the resources belonging to the rest of us for more than 30 years.


I asked my wife the question: who are the one percent in Canada? She said anyone making over $400,000 per year.

I can see why she responded that way. Armine Yalnizyan, writing for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, made the following observation about the rich in Canada:

This generation of rich Canadians is staking claim to a larger share of economic growth than any generation that has preceded it in recorded history. An examination of income trends over the past 90 years reveals that incomes are as concentrated in the hands of the richest 1% today as they were in the Roaring Twenties.

And even then, Canada’s elite didn’t experience as rapid a growth in their income share as has occurred in the past 20 years. Canada’s richest 1% — the 246,000 privileged few whose average income is $405,000 — took almost a third (32%) of all growth in incomes in the fastest growing decade in this generation, 1997 to 2007.

The full pdf report can be downloaded here.

246,000 privileged few with an average income of $405,000 is a bit misleading. It turns out that to be included in that number the income level drops down to about $170,000. And, if you want to include the top ten percent of the population — those folks who have been appropriating the resources “belonging to the rest of us for more than 30 years” — you enter that group with an income level that drops down to about $65,000.

Hardly the view that most of us would have of the super rich. I would consider incomes between $65,000 and $200,000 as good incomes but not super rich incomes.

That said, the very top of the income scale in Canada kicks in at about $620,000 per year in income. That amounts to 0.01 percent or about 2,500 people. And that is a very high income for most of us. However, there does not seem to be a definition for high income. Statistics Canada made the following observation:

There is no agreed-upon definition of high income, either in terms of absolute dollar thresholds or as a fixed percentage of the population. While defining poverty exhibits similar difficulties, numerous studies have discussed concepts such as ‘deprivation’ and ‘straitened circumstances,’ providing some general support for selecting a threshold below which one is considered to be in low income. No corresponding literature exists for defining high income.

Their 2007 report on High Income Canadians (download the pdf file here) is interesting. And Andrew Coyne tries to make a few points about whether the Occupy movement is really just about income envy:

It’s still not clear why so many should be so upset that so few are so rich—other than the obvious reason: envy. It’s worth noting that to be in the top 10 per cent of earners in Canada you only have to make about $65,000 or so. That would include most of the media covering these events, and a good number of the protesters, or their parents. The sight of the near-rich casting covetous eyes at the rich—all in the name of denouncing “greed?—is, you’ll forgive me, a bit rich.


I’m not sure what the Occupy movement is really about but I was surprised to find that the one percent in Canada, and the top ten percent, are not as rich as I would have thought — except of course for the very top income earners. Perhaps a better indicator of being rich is not based on income but on net worth.

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