THE BLOG

Canada's 1% Aren't So Well Off

11/19/2011 12:04 EST | Updated 01/19/2012 05:12 EST
CP

A friend texted me the other night complaining about how someone on the subway car was plucking her eyebrows during her commute home.

"I wish I was part of the one per cent," she texted me, with what I could only assume was a sigh.

I quickly reminded her that if I combined her annual income, the value of her inner-city Toronto house, her husband's annual income and the current value of their RRSPs, she was, by definition, part of the revered and simultaneously reviled one per cent.

Surprisingly, it takes a lot less than one would think to be considered a part of the upper echelons of Canadian society.

In fact according to Statistics Canada, an annual income of $89,000 is all that it takes to put an individual amongst the 1.2 million Canadians who make up the top five per cent of the country's tax filers. Even more worrisome, an income of only $181,000 is enough to put someone amongst Canada's EVIL one per cent!

To put these numbers into some perspective, over 1,000 (or one-tenth) of all TTC employees earn over $100,000 a year, and while I'm not here to judge or moralize anyone's salary (a lot of TTC employees make additional money via overtime), it IS fair to argue that there are probably a large number of people who are classified as part of the one per cent, but who certainly don't feel rich every time they look at their monthly credit card statements. Between mortgage payments and working 12-hour days, how many people in the working one per cent have time or money for all of that caviar and champagne? Am I right?

This is not a lament, however, for Canada's upper middle class (don't cry for us, we're already broke). The working rich are working poor because even with high household incomes, they have (to put it nicely) over-extended themselves in order to live in that nice inner-city Toronto house, send their two kids to private school and shop at Holt Renfrew, mostly because they feel like at this point in their lives, and at their income level, they really shouldn't have to live like the frugal students they were in their mid-20s.

A friend of mine admitted to me recently that although she and her husband make over $400k a year, they were struggling to figure out how to afford the monthly payments on a new Toyota.

"A Toyota," she admitted, almost embarrassed at the thought of it.

And while the one per cent is often portrayed as untouchably wealthy, they really aren't. Part of that statistical segment is the working one per cent -- the second tier in the great pyramid of our socioeconomic class structure. These people are the cogs in our great industrial machine; the junior lawyers, the accountants, civil servants -- and this group probably includes some of our teachers, and some of our TTC workers. The working one per cent includes those of us in junior management who, for better or for worse, make capitalism tick. And the working one per cent, a forgotten and overlooked group, is integral to the long-term success of any political movement.

That being said, the working one per cent are never going to give up a night's sleep in our over-priced, semi-detached slabs of real estate, so we can stay in tents and occupy St. James Park. It's not that we aren't really angry about buying RIM shares at $90 and watching them fall in value to $19.50. We are. And it's not that we aren't really galled by the fact that if we earn $89,000, the maximum mortgage we can qualify for is $450k (and Lord knows you can't find a decent house in the City of Toronto for under $600k). We are functionally irate about this.

See, the working one per cent has plenty to gripe about, too. And if anyone truly understands the gross income inequalities that are facing our society, it is probably those of us who live so close to the sun, but aren't quite there and may never get there.

But our problem with the Occupy Movement is that we have bought into the current system and have too much of a vested interest in it to get off the subway train (leaving our eyebrow-plucking friend) and walk over to join the protest movement at St. James Park. It's just too far from where we are (swimming in managed debt).

This leads us to the current state of Occupy Toronto, which was served an eviction notice by the City of Toronto on Nov. 14. Luckily (or not), the Ontario Superior Court gave the protesters a temporary reprieve. A judge argued that the movement should be allowed to stay until a Charter-based challenge on the right to Occupy St. James Park is settled. A ruling is expected Monday.

While some legal scholars, including David Schneiderman, a law professor at the University of Toronto (NB: Schneiderman snuck into the one per cent in 2011 by making $183,000 according to the sunshine list), have used legalese to argue that Occupy Toronto has an inalienable and constitutional right to occupy a public space, writing in the Globe and Mail, "Without question, the protesters are exercising their constitutionally protected freedoms of association, assembly and expression." I would argue that physical occupation is moot.

For the greater good of the movement, which like any protest requires growth if not maturation to continue, it is time to move past physical occupation. Members of the working one per cent will never dip their toes into the Occupy Movement while it is about sitting around a park in a not-so-nice part of downtown Toronto. We'd rather occupy our beds.

If the Occupy Movement is truly the start of some sort of proletarian war, a rebirth of democracy unshackled by corporate greed and a re-working on income inequality, then the working one per cent is a necessary part of that struggle. If Occupy Wherever truly wants to win the war -- they may have to concede their actual physical battleground.