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Forget about GDP, what about Quality of Life?

29 October 2012

How good do you find life in Canada? According to results from the Canadian Well-Being Index, it’s probably about the same as it was during the recession. Even if our GDP and other economic indicators show that our country is faring much better than others in these global hard times.

The Index takes into account 64 different indicators of a “good life,” including the amount of Canadian mortgages and the cost of living, crime, the size of ecological footprints, and volunteering, to name just a few. Most of those indicators on the current index had declined significantly, and at a pace much more rapid than the GDP – the main economic indicator most commonly used to determine the economic well-being of Canada.

The Index study, which was completed by a team of researchers at the University of Waterloo, showed that during the years of 2008 and 2010, our quality of life in Canada declined 24 per cent; while the GDP only dropped by 8.3 per cent during the same period. What’s more, at the end of 2010, our GDP started to climb upwards while our quality of life improved very little.

But this is not actually recent news for Canada. The Index also shows that during the years of 1994 and 2010, Canada’s GDP grew by 29 per cent; while quality of life was much slower in its growth at 5.7 per cent.

“When Canada’s economy was thriving, Canadians only saw modest improvements in their overall quality of life,” said Roy Romanow, former Saskatchewan premier who co-chair’s the Index’s advisory board. “But when the economy faltered, our well-being took a disproportionate step backward.GDP tells us nothing about our people, our environment, our democracy, or other aspects of life that matters to Canadians.”

So of those 64 indicators that were used on the Index, in what areas is Canada suffering the most?

Environmental factors are one of the biggest areas where Canada is lacking. During the years of 1994 to 2010, environmental factors dropped on the index by 10.8 per cent. A percentage of 0.8 of that decline was felt in just the last two years. While households are doing their part in reducing the size of their carbon footprint, the fact that industrial production has gone up at such a rapid rate means that their footprint has grown rapidly, too.

“Looking at all the data, we see that Canada is creating one of the biggest ecological footprints per person in the world – a footprint that has increased considerably in size since 1994, up by 17.2 per cent and putting demands on nature that exceed its supply – raising the question: is this the Canada we aspire to leave our children and our grandchildren?”

Environment Minister Peter Kent has often said though, that the amount of emissions we’re putting out as an economy has fallen rapidly over the past few years.

On the upside, violent crime and property crime are at their lowest levels since 1994, meaning that people feel safe in their homes, and in their communities. Volunteering is also up, showing that Canadians may not only feel better about themselves by helping others, but also that we have increased the amount that we helped improve the quality of life of others.

But, that’s about all the good news that can be gleaned from the Index.

“Looking at the last two years, the recession and subsequent sluggish recovery have taken a big toll on our standard of living,” says the report accompanying the Index results.

“The deterioration experienced by so many Canadians speaks to the growing unease felt across Canada and must be taken into consideration as our governments make decisions on how to steer us forward, particularly given predictions of an extended period of weak economic growth,” it continued on to say.

The report also pointed to the fact that our education scores are lower than they are typically, even though they are still above global standards. Available spots in regulated daycare spaces are also down, while underemployment and unemployment rates among youth and university graduates are up – even though there continues to be a high amount of university grads.

Romanow has said that now is the time for the government to step in with social policies and help bring the quality of life for Canadians back up. The report accompanying the Index agreed, saying that national strategies and policies had to be put in place to help Canadians.

However, the federal government doesn’t agree. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said on a number of occasions that social policies are not to be included in national strategies; but that provinces are better equipped to handle regional issues.

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