Seeing with both eyes

CYO Hall which sits underneath Sacred Heart Cathedral in Whitehorse has hosted an impressive array of speakers over its 60-year history.

CYO Hall which sits underneath Sacred Heart Cathedral in Whitehorse has hosted an impressive array of speakers over its 60-year history. Diplomats, storytellers of various genres, theologians, solidarity speakers from the Global South and a host of other luminaries have challenged and enlightened Yukoners on many levels. Last week Armine Yalnizyan, senior economist for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA), author and media commentator, joined that list.

Yalnizyan spoke to nearly 60 people at a Poverty and Homelessness Awareness Week event organized by the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition. Her talk focused on the roots of the current economic malaise which lately seems to have mainly the wealthier economies teetering precariously again on the edge of depression and maybe even collapse.

Noted for her work on the income gap between rich and poor in this country and its implications – I used her ground-breaking 1998 report on income inequality in Canada The Growing Gap in my Yukon College Social Work classes – Armine pointed out that as far as inequality in Canada goes, “we are doing worse now than in the 1920’s.” In fact, as she notes in a recent CCPA article “the richest one per cent of Canadians took a stunning one-third of all income gains between 1997 and 2007. That compares to eight per cent in the 1960s.” www.policyalternatives.ca

In this society-destabilizing area, the United States still leads us but as Yalnizyan wryly commented, “The US is an exercise in crazy, nobody does extreme like the United States.” The Canadian rate of growth in the income gap, though, currently exceeds that of the United States and its seems that we are hell bent as a country on catching up to them. It doesn’t have to be this way.

Yalnizyan shared her belief that “The North is the new West” as far as Canadian development goes. She believes that we have a chance to do it right. She cited the example of former Newfoundland and Labrador premier Danny Williams whose intervention on the Voisey Bay nickel development brokered a deal that from her perspective shows how large multinationals like Voisey’s owners Vale of Brazil can be made accountable. Development can serve the local community as well as shareholder’s interests.

We need, according to Armine, a ‘two-eyed’ strategy that at the same time sees both the global reality and local prorities. A number of audience members challenged her perspective that seemed to imply that a focus on continued growth was inevitable. Wasn’t the consumer society’s never ending quest for more what got us into this mess anyway? Don’t we need a fundamental paradigm shift?

Yalnizyan voiced her opinion that “People want more stuff, everybody wants abundance.” Though this is seemed to imply that any change to the economic basics would be tough she recently posted a short essay by the economist Nouriel Roubini on the Centre for Policy Alternatives blog (www.behindthenumbers.ca).

Professor Roubini states: “Any economic model that does not properly address inequality will eventually face a crisis of legitimacy. Unless the relative economic roles of the market and the state are rebalanced, the protests of 2011 will become more severe, with social and political instability eventually harming long-term economic growth and welfare.”

The democratic revolution we are witnessing following hard on the heels of the social communication revolution this implies for her the need for a fundamental power shift and at the very least a more equitable distribution of the world’s wealth. In an October 13 Globe and Mail blog Armine Yalnizyan remarked that the “Occupy Wall Street is partly about Wall Street, and Bay Street, and taxes. But it’s mostly about getting governments to serve the interests of the other 99 per cent. It’s about reclaiming democracy. It’s about demanding better results.”

Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact pazypan@yukon.net.

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