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Alberta grabs UN well-being index's top spot in Canada

A hot job market helped Alberta grab top spot among Canadian provinces and territories in 2011 on the so-called human development index, which tracks life expectancy, education and income, according to a report being released Friday by the Ottawa-based Centre for the Study of Living Standards. 'Incomes are big part of human development,' pointed out Andrew Sharpe, the centre’s executive director.

Jason Franson for The Globe and Mail/jason franson The Globe and Mail

Having resources the world wants is one way to a better life – at least, as measured by the United Nations' well-being index.

Alberta grabbed top spot among Canadian provinces and territories in 2011 on the so-called human development index, which tracks life expectancy, education and income, according to a report being released Friday by the Ottawa-based Centre for the Study of Living Standards.

That's the same spot Alberta held down in 2000.

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The report marks the first time that HDI – typically used to compare countries – has been applied to provinces.

Newfoundland and Labrador, and the Northwest Territories – both of which have new-found resource wealth – made the most impressive gains in the ranking over the past decade. One with oil and the other with diamonds.

"Incomes are big part of human development," pointed out Andrew Sharpe, the centre's executive director.

Newfoundland jumped to seventh spot from 11th in the ranking. Tiny Northwest Territories moved to third from fourth.

Ontario was No. 2, the same spot as in 2000. British Columbia, whose forest industry has been in a prolonged slump, dropped to No. 4 from No. 3.

Nova Scotia (ninth), New Brunswick (11th) and Manitoba (10th) all dropped between 2000 and 2011. Nunavut was last.

Alberta's education scores stand out because the province has high rates of educational attainment, but relatively low school enrolment rates. Mr. Sharpe attributed the anomaly to the booming oil business, which allows many young people to get high-paying jobs with only a high school education.

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"If you're making $100,000 a year maybe you don't need that university degree," said Mr. Sharpe, who authored the report along with economists Elspeth Hazell and Kar-Fai Gee.

Overall, Canada ranks sixth in the world in the index, behind Norway, Australia, the Netherlands, the United States and New Zealand.

Ranked as countries, Alberta, Ontario and B.C. would be in a virtual tie for third spot in the world. Nunavut would be 38th, just behind Qatar and ahead of Hungary.

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About the Author
National Business Correspondent

Barrie McKenna is correspondent and columnist in The Globe and Mail's Ottawa bureau. From 1997 until 2010, he covered Washington from The Globe's bureau in the U.S. capital. During his U.S. posting, he traveled widely, filing stories from more than 30 states. Mr. McKenna has also been a frequent visitor to Japan and South Korea on reporting assignments. More

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