Canada's Most Unequal Provinces: Energy Exporting Regions See Growing Inequality

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StatsCan’s new survey of top income taxfilers shows the country’s one-percenters are taking home slightly less of the national income pie than they did a year earlier.

The top one per cent of earners took home 10.3 per cent of all income in 2012, down from 10.6 per cent a year earlier.

But looking more closely at the data, a different picture emerges: Income inequality is growing in energy-exporting parts of the country.

The “winner” on this front is Newfoundland, where top earners have seen their share of the pie spike enormously. Newfoundland’s top 10 per cent took home 31.5 per cent of all income in the province in 2012, compared to just 22.4 per cent in 2006.

The number of Newfoundlanders among top 10-per-cent earners nearly doubled in that time, to more than 39,000 in 2012, from around 22,000 in 2006.

That’s undoubtedly a result of the province’s offshore oil boom, which has brought money into the long-struggling province. But as the numbers show, the distribution of that wealth has been very uneven.

That seems to hold true for all the energy provinces. Even though the concentration of income at the top has been reduced recently nationwide, the energy provinces (Newfoundland, Saskatchewan and Alberta) plus P.E.I. are the only provinces where inequality has risen in the most recent year for which we have data (2012).

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Canada's Most, Least Equal Provinces
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Alberta has the country’s most unequal incomes. The province’s top 10 per cent of earners took home 50.4 per cent of all income in 2012, making it the only province in Canada where the top 10 per cent take home more than half the income.

This also makes Alberta the only province in Canada that is more unequal than the United States. South of the border, the top 10 per cent of earners took home 48.2 per cent of all income in 2012.

By contrast, on Prince Edward Island, the top 10 per cent take home only 18.6 per cent of all income.

We recently reported that Alberta is projected to have a larger economy than Quebec’s within three or so years, despite having half as many people as Quebec.

But when it comes to the province’s upper classes, Alberta has already overtaken Quebec. The number of top 10 per cent earners in the province was just shy of 502,000 in 2012, compared to 429,000 in Quebec.

As recently as 2006, Quebec had more rich people: 407,000 top 10-per-cent earners, compared to 394,000 in Alberta at that time.

Like other resource provinces, Saskatchewan has also seen a spike in top earners, and a spike in inequality. The number of top 10% earners jumped to just under 91,000 in 2012, from around 59,000 in 2006.

Saskatchewan’s top 10 per cent of earners took home 34.5 per cent of all income in 2012, up from 29 per cent in 2006.

By contrast, Ontario, which has far and away the largest number of top 10 per cent earners (1.06 million at last count), has seen income concentration reduced over the past six years.

Ontario’s top 10 per cent took home 37.2 per cent of all income in 2012, compared to 40 per cent in 2006.

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