It hit Jim Olwell like a ton of bricks.
He and a few friends had just read a report that showed the richest 1 percent own nearly half the world’s wealth. “It was the insanity of that kind of accumulation that we wanted to respond to as citizens,” he says. So he and those friends – a mix of 30-somethings and retired community activists from Montreal’s NDG neighbourhood, formed a group that would work local to learn more and then share the facts with neighbours and colleagues. They also wanted to make taxes and wealth distribution an issue in the upcoming federal election.
Says Olwell: “We’ve got one issue and here’s why: how seriously a government takes its responsibility for wealth distribution affects everything else. It all stems from this. We aren’t partisan. But we go to politicians who want to represent our riding and ask them about their party’s policy and question them to find out how committed they are to solving this. At a local level, we want to have elected someone who understands the issue.”
Recently the group created a petition directed to the leaders of Canada’s major political parties. It states:
The time has come for Canadian political parties to make a serious commitment to reverse the trend of cutting corporate taxes, and of tolerating corporate tax avoidance and tax evasion …We will no longer support nor vote for a party that will not commit to raising corporate taxes to a fair level, to closing tax loopholes and to legislating against tax avoidance through profit shifting.
They’ve also had 1,000 postcards printed up to distribute at local meetings. They are a tool to get the word out about corporate tax rates, the stock option loophole and the negative impact of raising the limit on the tax free savings account program. Asking if they feel rich enough to put $10,000 a year into a TFSA seems to put it into perspective for many people, Olwell says. The group is hoping that by distributing the postcards more people will join them in their work.
Not surprisingly the group has found they often know more about the wealth equality issue than the politicians. Olwell says the group regularly uses data and information from Canadians for Tax Fairness in its work. “It is solid and readily available. It helps us a lot to have the facts so accessible.” That is inspiring to Canadians for Tax Fairness’ Dennis Howlett. “ Pushing back against corporate tax avoidance; changing the way Canadians talk about taxes; and demanding that politicians enact tax fairness policies that work for all of us – that’s our goal,” he said from Saskatoon where is currently working with Saskatchewan Citizens for Tax Fairness, another locally based group.
Olwell doesn’t hesitate when asked if he has advice for others who don’t like what is happening. “Every one of us as a citizen has a right to an opinion and to take action when we don’t feel our rights are being reflected. You would be surprised how many people are quietly feeling that without bringing it up. Local action is important because it might reach those people. It does have an effect.”