How are Ontarians really doing?

It depends on how you measure it. With a provincial election in Ontario, much of the focus is on our province’s financial productivity.  This week, a report by the Canadian Index of Wellbeing (CIW) gives us a very different snapshot of the health of our province, through indicators that go far beyond traditional measures of GDP.

This is the first provincial index report released by the CIW. It compares Ontario to the rest of Canada from 1994-2010, by GDP as well as by the 8 domains of wellbeing for Canadians:

  • Community Vitality
  • Democratic Engagement
  • Education
  • Environment
  • Healthy Populations
  • Leisure and Culture
  • Living Standards
  • Time Use

The report states that Ontario slightly lags behind the rest of Canada in both GDP and wellbeing.  More disturbing is that, unlike economic productivity, Ontario’s wellbeing has not rebounded since the 2008, and has lagged GDP throughout the 17 year period of study.

Some encouraging trends for Ontario

Education, a key determinant of health, has contributed strongly to the province’s wellbeing.  As in the rest of Canada, growth in skill development and training exceeded growth in GDP (36% vs. 42%)

Ontario also leads the country in the domain of Community Vitality , which measures a sense of connectedness and belonging, vital to promoting health equity and inclusion.

Others indicators are very concerning

The report finds ‘deeply troubling’ trends for Ontario in the domains for Leisure and Culture, and Time Use, even though many are similar to the national average.  Ontarians are spending less time enjoying arts and cultural activities than they once did, and one in five feels caught in a “time crunch”.

Most markedly, Ontario shows startlingly lower trends in Living Standards, compared to Canada overall.  The report identifies growing income inequality in Ontario, greater economic insecurity and a drop in Living Standards by 22.8% overall in only 3 years.

Although this report cautions that the domains tell only part of a complex story, the authors conclude that the wellbeing of Ontarians continues to suffer from the 2008 recession, despite some recent economic gains. They stress that to make additional gains we must focus on key issues such as income inequality, early child education and childcare, support for families and a proactive approach to health. We need good public policy that puts our wellbeing front and centre.

Health Nexus applauds this report and the work of the Canadian Index for Wellbeing.  The CIW serves as a valuable foundation for conversations across the province and throughout Canada. The recent work of the Association of Ontario Health Centres is a just one of many good examples of such efforts but more is needed.  Health Nexus will work with our partners and those at the CIW to stimulate and support discussions and policy development on the factors that influence and contribute to our health and wellbeing.

“Throughout all domains runs the impact of a recession that sent Ontario on a roller-coaster ride from which it is still recovering.”