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Study finds Canadians aren’t feeling economic growth in their daily lives

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Canada's economy is still expanding, but it may not feel that way for many of its country's citizens.

A national index of well-being, to be released Tuesday, shows that growing economic output since the recession has not translated into a better quality of life for many Canadians. Some measures, such as the environment, health and standard of living, show an outright decline in recent years.

The composite index, based on 64 indicators in eight interconnected areas, aims to give a fuller picture of the country's progress than the traditional measure, the gross domestic product.

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"If anything, we are seeing a deepening disparity between the production of goods and services, and how that's translated into the everyday lives of Canadians," said Roy Romanow, co-chair of the initiative and former Saskatchewan premier, in an interview.

The index shows Canada's economy expanded 28.9 per cent between 1994 and 2010, while improvements in Canadians' well-being grew just 5.7 per cent. In the two most recent years, well-being – as tracked in a range of measures from voter turnout to pollution and mental health – declined sharply.

It's the second annual release of the study, which is run out of the University of Waterloo and was compiled by two lead researchers with input from 12 experts in various fields.

It finds Canadians are a time-pressed bunch, with commute times rising and less time for leisure activities. Two deteriorating areas in recent years are living standards, which includes job quality, income inequality and economic security, and the environment, which encompasses air quality and greenhouse gas emissions.

But we're also doing better in several areas: Canadians feel safer, as property and violent crimes decline. More workers have flexible hours. Fewer teens are smoking, and high-school completion rates are rising.

The project aims to spur debate over how to measure progress, and to encourage policy-makers to drill deeper into indicators to understand what's changing, Mr. Romanow said. Ultimately, he hopes it will help governments design better public policy.

The Canadian index comes as a host of countries, from the United Kingdom to France and Bhutan, are placing more emphasis on quality-of-life measures as part of economic progress. In a release last week, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development said tracking broader areas of well-being, such as the environment and health, "needs to be at the heart of policy-making."

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There are some limitations. The Canadian Index of Wellbeing goes only to 2010, because it relies on Statistics Canada data that is sometimes produced with a lag. Stats on the environment are lacking. And not everyone will agree with the weighting of the index, or the elements it includes.

Still, it paints the most comprehensive picture of how Canadians are doing, says Ian Bird, president of the Ottawa-based Community Foundations of Canada, who says he relies on it to get a more nuanced understanding of how we're faring.

This index "helps us understand what's actually playing out across the country."

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About the Author

Tavia Grant has worked at The Globe and Mail since early 2005, covering topics from employment and currency markets to trade, microfinance and Latin American economies. She previously worked for Bloomberg News in Toronto and Zurich, writing on mining, stocks, currencies and secret Swiss bank accounts. More


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