Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Times are tough: how is Canada doing?

This year, our findings uncover some troubling truths about the connection between our economy and our wellbeing

The Honourables Monique Bégin and Roy J. Romanow, Co-Chairs, Canadian Index of Wellbeing (CIW) Advisory Board

We’re living in a time of uncertainty. Dominant political institutions are stumbling, long revered pollsters now have difficulty predicting election outcomes and despite sagging voter turnout, those still casting their ballot seem open to considering alternative options. Everywhere pundits are scrambling to understand why. We ask the question: Could it be governments and political parties are not truly responding to the needs and values of everyday citizens?

With the release of our second composite index report, the CIW has found the 2008 recession hit Canadians harder than Gross Domestic Product (GDP) numbers revealed and the decline in our wellbeing continues despite subsequent economic recovery. From 1994 to 2010, Canada’s GDP grew by a large 28.9 per cent, while improvements in Canadian wellbeing over the same 17-year period saw only a small 5.7 per cent increase. Yet still, wellbeing is largely gauged by GDP measurements alone, presuming economic growth equals a better quality of life for citizens.

CIW draws from a deep well of data using 64 separate indicators within eight inter-connected domains central to the lives of Canadians: Community Vitality; Democratic Engagement; Education; Environment; Healthy Populations; Leisure and Culture; Living Standards; and Time Use. When partnered with GDP, the CIW provides more comprehensive data to help decision makers better assess the impact of policies and programs. This year, our findings uncover some troubling truths about the connection between our economy and our wellbeing. When Canada’s economy was thriving, Canadians saw only modest improvements in our overall quality of life, but when the economy faltered, our wellbeing took a disproportionate step backward.

Deterioration in the environment, and in living standards indicators such as job quality and economic security, soaring long-term unemployment and persistent income inequality speak to the growing unease felt coast to coast. Wealth creation has not been fairly distributed and, as a result, everyday Canadian families are falling behind. It is important to bear this all in mind as governments contemplate approval of pipelines, changes to pension policy, or new international trade deals. We believe the benchmark in any decision must be: Will it improve the actual wellbeing of citizens?

Despite these difficult times, the CIW has uncovered a few beacons of hope that offer further insight into the needs and values of everyday Canadians. Despite the recession, Canadians continue to report an increased sense of belonging to our communities. More than 80 per cent volunteer to help others. Violent crime is at its lowest level since 1994, having dropped every year since 2001. Property crime, also at its lowest level, is down 48 per cent since 1994. And the percentage of Canadians who feel safe walking after dark is at its highest level. Given the focus on balancing budgets, the CIW asks if the needs of Canadians are really being met by government plans to spend more in this area?

The CIW has also found that citizens are stepping up when it comes to the environment. Canada is still creating one of the biggest ecological footprints in the world, but only six per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions came from Canadian households in 2010 and despite an increased population, total household emissions are in decline. In contrast, more than 60 per cent of the contribution comes from transportation, fossil fuel industries, and electricity production and it continues to grow. Considering respiratory diseases related to air pollutants account for a significant number of all hospital visits, adding to our overburdened health care system, and the fact that climate change is expected to have a serious detrimental impact on the global economy, action must be taken. Citizens have proven they are willing to do their part but clearly there is a need for governments and industry to do the same. 

History shows Canadians share a legacy of coming together during hard times to build a stronger foundation for a vibrant future. As the world continues to struggle from the 2008 recession, we believe this same legacy holds the key to our collective recovery and growth. Measuring the wellbeing of citizens is paramount to any government or political party determined to lead a country through these difficult times.

Read our complete findings at: www.ciw.ca

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