Rich and Poor

“Gibsons is the most beautiful place on the planet when the grey clouds tear open to reveal the blue sky and the snow capped mountains across Howe Sound and the air is fresh, the grass is green and the roads are clear,” Camp enthused as I sat down at our usual table at ‘Gramma’s Pub’ in our quaint Gibsons village.

“What have you been smoking? It’s been raining for the past month.”

“Well no, we had a beautiful day on Monday. I can still see it.”

“Hey Camp, did you read the latest Oxfam report? It states that the richest 8 men own as much wealth as the 3.8 billion people that make up the poorest half of humanity? In the USA alone the income growth of the bottom 50% has been zero over the past 30 years while the incomes of the top 1% have grown by 300%.”

“You mean the one about the 99 percent economy? Yeah, I read it. No real surprises there.”

“It’s obscene for so much wealth to be in the hands of so few. Inequality is trapping hundreds of millions of people into poverty and is fracturing our societies and undermining democracy,” I said, more or less quoting Winnie Byanyiama, director of Oxfam International.

“You’re preaching to the choir,” Campbell or Camp, to all of us who know him, said, shaking his head. “And the rich get richer and the poor are left behind. Income and wealth are not trickling down, instead they are being sucked upwards.”

“You can only reduce poverty by sharing prosperity,” I said, lifting another quote from the sobering report.

Without ordering, Vicky brought us two foaming mugs of the amber liquid.    “To the 99 percent,” Camp toasted. “We could soon see the world’s first trillionaire.” Camp held up his phone, breaking one of our sacred rules once again. It’s becoming a habit. “It says here: “You would have to spend one million every day for 2738 years to spend one trillion. Talk about pressure to spend. And here is another stat,” he said pointing at his smarter-than-I phone. “In the 80ies coca farmers got 18% of the value of a chocolate bar, today it’s a mere 6%.”

We both shook our heads and took a soothing swig of our drink.

“Just last week there was a front page story in the Vancouver Sun with a homeless former electrician on the front page, now living in a makeshift shelter next to Oppenheimer Park,” I said. “People cannot afford to live in this city anymore. Real estate and rents are out of control, thanks to offshore money laundering and lax rent controls. That doesn’t just go for the homeless and the poor. Even university professors and businessmen turn down lucrative positions because they cannot afford to move here from Halifax or Winnipeg. Lotus Land is increasingly unaffordable for the middle class. “

“You can’t blame the rich for taking advantage of poor oversight and a greedy housing market and you can’t blame the poor for their own misery. That’s why we have governments and laws, rules and social safety nets,” Camp said.

“Or not,” I countered. “But that doesn’t help the working poor. The hospitals cannot find menial workers and care-aids because they cannot afford to live in Vancouver and driving every day from up the valley is a weak second option. All the income you save on rent goes for gas and all your spare time on commuting,” I said.

“And then there are us small business men who work for less then minimum wage because we cannot afford to pay ourselves. I can’t remember when I last took a pay check out of the bookstore.”

“At least you get free books.”

“Well, not really but I do take some expenses like ferry tickets, utility bills and even some meals out of the till, sometimes I take emergency cash advances, and like everybody else I juggle a portfolio of several credit cards.”

“How much does a town councillor make?”

“Not nearly enough and no way to get rich in local politics.. Just under fifteen grand, half of what the mayor makes. I’m just happy and lucky that I own my home which I built myself 30 years ago.”

“You couldn’t do that anymore today,” I said. “They would kill you with permits and licenses, paper and inspections. Death by burocracy. But don’t you worry Camp. I’ll buy the next round. It’s the least I can do for a poor, working businessman and politician.”

“By the way did you read Sean Penn’s letter in Time in response to Trump’s shithole comment? He called him an enemy of compassion and the state?”

“Can’t say I have.”

“Check it out.”

“Did you boys see the latest ‘Star Wars’ movie yet?” Vicky asked, taking both of us back to reality.

We both shook our heads in unison.

“May the force be with you,” she said with a wink while setting down two fresh pints.




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