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Atlantic provinces have the worst social programs in Canada, but residents are happier

A new report has found that residents of Atlantic provinces report above-average levels of life satisfaction.
A new report has found that residents of Atlantic provinces report above-average levels of life satisfaction. Mike Groll/AP File Photo

A “report card” released by the Conference Board of Canada this morning reveals that despite having less robust economies, Atlantic Canada provinces report above-average levels of life satisfaction.

The Conference Board of Canada released a report this morning titled “How Canada Ranks: Society,” that ranked Canada on a national, provincial and international level for its performance in several social metrics such as poverty, income inequality, immigrant wage gap, jobless youth, etc., to award 26 jurisdictions a grade between A and D.

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According to the Conference Board of Canada’s chief economist, Craig Alexander, there’s more to these grades than meets the eye. While researching this study, Alexander was surprised at the stark contrast between the poor social performance of the majority of Atlantic provinces and their populations’ higher-than-average levels of life satisfaction.

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Alexander explains that this report represents the metrics by which Canadians experience their everyday lives. “As an economist, we tend to think of economic growth as a factor of success, but nobody eats GDP,” says Alexander.

The jurisdictions include Canada on a national level, individual Canadian provinces and several other countries. Overall, Canada achieved a “B” grade, and no Canadian province ranked lower than a “C” grade. New Brunswick led the pack, placing 10th among 26 jurisdictions. However, P.E.I., Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia all achieved “C” grades for their social performance.

Despite high rates of jobless youth, poverty and social network support in the Atlantic provinces, an “A” grade was awarded to Nova Scotia for life satisfaction. Upon speaking to economics professor Douglas May at the Memorial University of Newfoundland, he confirms that what seems like a gaping hole between these two measurements may just be a matter of perspective.

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“In general, what you find when you go to the larger urban centres like Toronto is that life satisfaction is usually less. There’s much more mobility in a small tow. There’s more of a sense of belonging for the community. You’re much more likely to know your neighbour. You’re much more likely to trust your neighbour,” said May, who focuses his research on life satisfaction.

He goes on to say that the social factors used to grade each region, such as jobless youth and access to social networks, are less pronounced in smaller towns than they are in metropolitan areas. In categories like social network support for example, where P.E.I. and Newfoundland and Labrador both receive “D” grades, May suggests that the same support could come from a network of tight-knit friends and neighbours.

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While jobless youth and poverty pose a greater problem for residents of Toronto and Vancouver with higher costs of living, it may not bear the same burden to someone from an East Coast town with more affordable rates.

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May says that for residents living in Atlantic towns, housing is affordable. Many of them don’t have mortgages on their homes. Unemployment doesn’t mean the same thing necessarily as it does in Toronto, Montreal or Calgary. Many people have seasonal jobs. It’s just a way of life,” says May.

May goes on to say that something as simple as the morning commute that residents of major cities are often saddled with, could play a major role in their overall satisfaction and quality of life.

Alexander stated that while Canada ranks higher than the United States for its performance in multiple social categories, it ranks below several European countries including Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Finland.

While each province faces different social challenges, Alexander suggests that on a national level, Canada should focus on reducing poverty, income inequality and wage gaps for immigrants and persons with disabilities.

Read the full report here.