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The richest got $37 billion richer during COVID-19, while millions lost their jobs

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Thomson Reuters Chairman David Thomson speaks at the company's annual general meeting for shareholders
Thomson Reuters Chairman David Thomson is Canada's richest person (REUTERS)

As millions of Canadians lost their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic and the economy collapsed, the country’s richest got richer — more proof that the economy and the stock market do not always move in lockstep.

Canada’s 20 richest have collectively added $37 billion to their fortunes since March, according to a new report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. None of them experienced a drop in net worth.

David Thomson and family, who’s consistently at the top of the country’s richest lists with their media and publishing empire, led the way with a $8.8 billion increase in wealth. Shopify’s skyrocketing stock price gave founder and CEO Tobi Lutke a $6.6 billion increase. The continued rise in e-commerce helped Alibaba’s Joseph Tsai come in fourth place, with a $4.5 billion increase. Lululemon founder Chip Wilson was next with a nearly $3 billion gain — evidence that the pandemic has kept athleisure in vogue. And 92 year old James Irving, head of the J.D. Irving conglomerate, rounded out the top five by adding $2.1 billion.

But as their wealth grew COVID-19 took a record toll on Canada’s economy and the unemployment rate hit an all time high of 13.7 per cent in May, 1.1 million people are still out of work.

“At the same time as billionaires like Loblaws owner Galen Weston have seen their wealth balloon, front-line workers stocking shelves and scanning groceries at his stores have continued to risk their health and that of their loved ones by coming into work,” said Alex Hemingway and Michal Rozworski in the report.

Hemingway and Rozworski note the country’s richest 1 per cent control 26 per cent of wealth, and billionaires hold 4,448 times the wealth of the Canadian typical family. They say ways to bridge the gap include an emergency, one-time excess wealth tax and an annual wealth tax.

“A wealth tax needs to be combined with other measures, including a major crackdown on tax havens, corporate tax reform, and equalizing the tax treatment of capital gains income,” they said.

“Canadians are frequently told that “we’re all in this together” when it comes to the COVID-19 crisis. There is some truth to this—ultimately, anyone can get sick. However, the explosion in the wealth of billionaires illustrates how the crisis has only magnified the ways in which a wealthy minority lives in a very different world.”

Jessy Bains is a senior reporter at Yahoo Finance Canada. Follow him on Twitter @jessysbains.

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