Twenty-two years ago, People’s Voice printed a series on the staggering profits by Canada’s six largest banks – totalling six billion dollars a year. Our readers took part in a public campaign to draw attention to this profiteering scandal, holding rallies and pickets in a number of cities across the country. As we wrote at the time, if those profits were stuffed into burlap sacks, each containing a million dollars, the sacks would stretch for six kilometres. It was a startling image.
How things change in just a generation! Today, six billion sounds like pocket change for the big banks, in Canada and even more so internationally. A recent Oxfam report, for example, calls out 20 Eurozone banks which stashed US$27 billion in profits into tax havens in the year 2015 alone. Luxembourg and Ireland are among the favourite destinations. Europe’s fifth-biggest bank, Barclays, posted profits of 557 million euros in Luxembourg during 2015, and paid only one million euros in taxes – an effective tax rate of 0.2 percent.
The latest news on banking profits in Canada is equally shocking. “Strong results” from Toronto-Dominion Bank helped push the Big Six banks’ total profits to more than $10.5-billion for the three month period ending January 31, 2017. Projected over a 12-month period, that’s $42 billion, seven times as much as these banks racked up in the mid-1990s. As one business analyst put it, “In general, I think that bank earnings showed that there is still a lot to be positive about when it comes to the Canadian banks.”
No kidding. Show us a single group of workers whose earning power jumped seven-fold over the past two decades, and we’ll eat this newspaper. But when the richest corporations in the country announce record profits year after year, well, that’s just “positive news.”