Kelly McParland: I want to join the 1%

Kelly McParland Oct 18, 2011 – 12:48 PM ET | Last Updated: Oct 18, 2011 1:19 PM ET

"I’m thinking of joining the 1%.

I’m not sure they’ll have me, as there may be some financial issues. Most of them paid more in taxes last Wednesday than I made in salary last year, so if they’re going to be picky and stand-offish, I could be in for trouble. But I think I’ll give it a try.

I’ve been reading for a while now about how the 1% own everything and are greedy pigs. Supposedly it’s better to be part of the 99%, the downtrodden masses who are morally superior by dint of being … I don’t know, being downtrodden masses? I assume, since I’m not part of the 1% — yet — I must be part of the 99%, though I don’t feel downtrodden. Actually, I feel pretty good.

I’ve read a lot about Europe and the U.S., which are in a real mess, yet here in Canada we seem to have dodged one gigantic bullet. Last weekend, the roads in and out of Toronto were closed again (Rob Ford, what did I tell you about that?), so that 23,000 people could participate in a charity marathon. So if you wanted to join the 2,000 who were moaning and complaining about how awful everything is, you’d have to take the subway to bypass the 23,000 who had something better to do, like raise some money for the less fortunate.

Besides, I’ve done a little checking and discovered that the 1% aren’t that bad. It’s difficult to calculate exactly, because they run some pretty large operations, but if you took the 1% and deported them all to Jamaica (which I suspect would be glad to have them), you’d be risking a few million jobs. Because it appears (and this is a closely guarded secret, so don’t give it away) that the 1% actually pour huge amounts of money into the economy and employ a lot of people.

I know, I know, they’re parasites, right? They inherited their money, sit around in big houses doing nothing and are rude to their servants. They don’t deserve what they have. They’re flinty, self-absorbed, uncaring. They hate the homeless. They ignore charities. They’re not like us in the 99%. They’re carbuncles on the national nose.

It’s true that quite a few of the wealthiest Canadians got their money from relatives. Thomsons, Irvings, McCains, Richardsons, Westons … the usual families dominate, particularly at the top of the list. Oddly, in many cases the second and third generations haven’t succeeded in blowing the family wad yet (we won’t mention the Eaton boys here, it’s still a bit sensitive) and have actually expanded and added to the empire. Which is good, right? If you figure that bigger empires employ more people and finance more homes, taxes etc.

But there are quite a few who scraped together their billions all on their own. Chip Wilson, who created Lululemon and is not hard up for cash as a result. Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie, who made so much out of Research in Motion that Balsillie was willing to blow millions of it moving a crappy hockey team from Phoenix to Hamilton. Daryl Katz, who also has a thing about hockey and made his money opening drug stores. Clay Riddell, founder of Paramount Resources and part-owner of the Calgary Flames (is this a trend or what?), Ron Joyce, who doesn’t even make the richest list but did all right with that coffee chain he ran — I forget the name now, they make donuts too, I think. Jim Pattison, who started out selling cars.

These are just the top names in the 1%, but they don’t seem like awful people. Actually, they seem to give an enormous amount of time and money to the community. It’s not like they came from privileged backgrounds, or were left half of Mayfair by some ancient relic of a relative. Ron Joyce started as a Hamilton cop. Daryl Katz went to Jasper Place High School in Edmonton. Balsillie is from Seaforth, Ontario, son of a technician; Lazaridis’s father Nick was a Turkish factory worker. Mostly they’re just smart, hard-working, inventive people.

You don’t even have to be a zillionaire to make it to the 1% in Canada. According to Statistics Canada, anyone with an income over $200,000 qualifies. That includes hospital executives, Bob Rae, university professors, college administrators, Steve Paikin, Toronto’s police chief, museum bosses, school superintendents, lots of middle-level managers across the country. Even some pundits. I’m betting that if you could get a look at their income tax files, you might find Mike Holmes or St. David Suzuki on that list. Ron MacLean and Don Cherry are definitely on it. There are probably a whole pile of bankers and financiers too. Not to mention hockey players — even the poorest player in the NHL makes at least double the entry level salary needed to make the 1%. But not all bankers are evil, most of them are just people who work in banks.

These aren’t plutocrats folks. They’re not evicting starving children from homeless shelters. If I can find an application I’m going to apply. It’s better than camping out in the park."

Kelly McParland National Post

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