Ontario ranks 7th in Canada on well-being

Ontario ranks 7th in Canada on well-being

In Working Paper 27, Looking beyond GDP: Measuring prosperity in Ontario, the Institute used the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's (OECD) Regional Well-Being (RWB) Database to examine how Ontario fares against 10 other peer jurisdictions. Not surprisingly, Ontario has strong performance on Access to Services, Health, and Safety, but needs to improve on Community, Income, and Jobs. But how does Ontario compare to the rest of the Canadian provinces and territories on well-being? 

When conducting such an analysis, comparators are important because they inform the results. The peer jurisdictions (Canadian provinces, US States and International countries) used by the Institute to compare Ontario to are those with which the province shares economic and demographic characteristics.

When compared to Canada, Ontario ranks in the middle of the pack, in 7th place. This is despite the vast differences between the Institute's traditional peer group (B.C, Québec, Wisconsin, Michigan, Tennessee, Indiana, Ohio, Sweden, the Netherlands and Australia) and the Canadian provinces and territories. The province’s performance varies when looking at each index. 

Note: The graphs above are all populated using the OECD’s Regional Well-Being Database.

Similar to the rankings presented in Working Paper 27, Ontario performs better than the rest of the country on Access to Services and Health and performs average on Civic Engagement and Housing, but that is where the similarities end. Compared to the rest of the provinces, Ontario has a more educated labour force (as measured by secondary school educational attainment). The province also performs average on Safety, which is perhaps not surprising when US states like Michigan are no longer a comparator. This also affects Ontario’s ranking on Community as we found that residents of US states that faced economic downturns were more likely to have a stronger sense of community. 

On Environment, the province comes in last place. Aside from being in close proximity to more industrial US states, Ontario is highly urbanized and the traffic and congestion particularly in the Greater Toronto Area, are major contributors to air pollution. Less densely populated provinces and territories are likely to perform better on this index. 

Ontario is also in the middle of the pack on Life Satisfaction, or how individuals see their current lives compared to their ‘best’ life. Unfortunately, compared to the rest of the provinces, Ontarians are in second last place, feeling less satisfied with their lives. 

The results are most surprising when it comes to the Income and Jobs indices. Ontario sits squarely in the middle of the pack on both. While Ontario is at the median, does this mean we can be complacent? Given the significant amount of resources expended on improving our economy, perhaps the median amongst Canadian provinces and territories is too low a bar for comparison - perhaps we must strive for more. 

Interestingly, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut face low performance on most of the indices, while Yukon’s results reveal the opposite story. Aside from the Education, Community, and Life Satisfaction, which do not have available data, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut only perform well on Income and the Environment. This means that these two territories have less air pollution than the provinces and more disposable income. Yet the disposable income per household in Northwest Territories, which scored the highest on this index, is only $9,500 more than the average Ontario household. The territories come in near-last place on Jobs, Health, and Housing.

Yukon, on the other hand, ranked second place or higher on half of the indicators, and only on Health did the territory find itself near the bottom of the ranking. Part of the rationale for this is the territory’s population, which is three times smaller than the population of Thunder Bay or Peterborough. In the case of Civic Engagement, a small population may help bolster voting turnout rates. Likewise, according to Statistics Canada’s crime rates, Yukon’s homicide rate, which is used in calculating the Safety indicator, is sporadic. Unlike Ontario’s homicide rate that hovers consistently above 1, Yukon’s rate can fluctuate from 0 to 22.24 (in 2004).

One of the lessons from expanding our notion of prosperity beyond that of an economic one is that well-being is inherently interconnected. While GDP remains one measure of economic prosperity, it does not tell the whole story. More disposable income does not mean that the quality of life or more social aspects of prosperity are improved. Governments would do well to consider the impact of their policies on a region's well-being. 

Category: Economic Progress, Income, Benefits, and Pensions, Education, Employment, Environment, Health Care, Income, Public Policy