Re-Growing the Canadian Middle Class
Harry Hillman Chartrand, PhD
May 12, 2011
It is generally recognized that the middle class is shrinking as the manufacturing-based economy is automated, production sent abroad and the Canadian labour force comes increasingly into competition with foreign labour. Even parts of the service sector – from telephone answering to legal services - face similar competitive income stress resulting from globalization.
On the one hand globalization has raised out of poverty hundreds of millions of workers in China, India, Brazil and many other parts of the former Second and Third Worlds. Arguably it is the most successful international development project in history! On the other hand, income distribution in Canada has increasingly shifted towards a relatively few wealthy Canadians. The poor remain, for the moment at least, secured by a post-30s Depression social safety net but the middle income class is thinning flowing mainly towards the bottom of the income curve.
This is happening at the same time that the so-called knowledge-based economy is emerging. This is an economy dominated by knowledge workers including artists, authors, composers, computer programmers, scientists and other symbol makers and manipulators of words, numbers, sights and sounds. What is not generally recognized, however, is that these workers are increasingly part-time, short-term, contract employees or self-employed freelancers. Under existing law all rights to their work – economic and moral - are subject to assignment or waiver. Those still working as full-time employees, excepting university professors due to contract and tradition, simply have no rights in their work whatsoever, not even the right of paternity to shout: That’s my baby! In effect, they are alienated not from the means of production but from the product of their own creation. The end in 2010 of Bob Marley’s family legal struggle to stop commercial exploitation of a revolutionary’s creation tragically demonstrates how alienated one’s work can become from oneself under existing Anglosphere law, i.e., the English-speaking world of the Common Law. However, in the Francophonie or French-speaking world of the European Civil Code including Japan, even employees retain moral rights to their work and can always shout: That’s my baby!
The legal bargaining power of the average Canadian knowledge worker is thus significantly less than in most parts of the world. To take what may be a canary-in-the-mine example, self-employed artists and entertainers are second only to pensioners as the lowest income class in Canada. With Quebec’s re-entry into Canadian politics through its overwhelming representation by a single national party an opportunity now exists to avoid the same outcome for other Canadian knowledge workers in future.
In the past the Civil Code tradition of Quebec has left a cosmetic imprint on Canadian copyright and copyright-related law. This includes: formal moral rights of creators in the Copyright Act (subject to waiver); the Public Lending Rights program to compensate Canadian authors for library use of their works (under-funded and under-appreciated); and, the Status of the Artist Act (fine black letter law but with limited practical effect). Today that tradition could materially shift intellectual property rights especially copyright in favour of the worker/creator increasing their bargaining power and income.
Three legal reforms are required:
1. Moral rights should, as in Civil Code countries, become impresciptable and extended to employees;
2. A Canadian content levy should be placed on all recording equipment and media not manufactured in Canada. Resulting revenues should be distributed to individual Canadian authors/creators and performers, not to Hollywood or Silicon Valley or Bollywood or Shaw or Bell or other Legal Persons; and,
3. All ‘significant’ Canadian works in the public domain (out of copyright) should be treated as part of our national patrimony and made available online without charge to Canadians as is being done in the European Union.
These three reforms would go some distance to re-growing a competitive Canadian middle class in a global knowledge-based economy.