Ocean Mist

Issues and trends shaping our environment, health and economy

5 May 2014

The well-being of Ontario

Posted by Michael Keating

A recent study found that Ontarians are getting a better education, and have safer communities, but are more time-stressed and insecure in their jobs.

The report, How Are Ontarians Really Doing?, is the latest from The Canadian Index of Wellbeing https://uwaterloo.ca/canadian-index-wellbeing/ an independent organization based at the University of Waterloo. Traditionally, it produces national reports, but this report focuses on Ontario, comparing it to national figures from 1994 to 2010. It was commissioned by the Ontario Trillium Foundation.

Traditionally, societies measure how they are doing in terms of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) or employment rates, which are economic measures. The well-being report looks at these plus social and environmental factors.

This report found that during the 17-year period, national GDP increased by about 29 per cent, but national well-being increased by only 7.5 per cent. In Ontario, the increases were 24 per cent for GDP and 7 per cent for well-being.

Although the data is several years old, it still provides insights into trends that have probably not changed a lot.

During that period, Canada went through a number of economic cycles, and Ontario in particular is still suffering from loss of manufacturing and food processing jobs following the last recession. This led to a decline in living standards, a growing income gap, volatility in long-term unemployment and lower job quality.

Some of the highlights:

  • In Canada and Ontario, the strongest gains were education domain, attributed to more regulated child care spaces, an improving student-educator ratio, and higher university and high school completion rates.
  • Community connections are strong, people are participating more in organized voluntary activities, and providing more unpaid help to others. Although crime rates were down and Ontarians felt safer than ever, they became less trusting in others.
  • Despite modest increases in median income, the income gap has grown, long-term unemployment in Ontario has spiked, and economic security has steadily declined.
  • Gains from more flexible work options and fewer people working more than 50 hours each week were offset by the longest commutes in the country, and more unpaid time spent caring for seniors. One in five Ontarians felt caught in a “time crunch”. The most significant decline over the 17-year period was found in the time and resources spent in leisure and culture.
  • Environmental measures, smog and greenhouse gas emissions showed a worsening trend of about 2 per cent in Ontario compared to a nearly 8 per cent decline for all of Canada.
  • Ontarians, especially women, were socializing less, and spending less time engaged in arts and culture.
  • The trend for democratic engagement – being involved in advancing democracy through political institutions, organizations, and activities – showed only a 1.7 per cent growth in Ontario, compared to a Canadian increase of 7 per cent. Three out of four Ontarians were satisfied with Canadian democracy, but they felt far less confident in federal Parliament than other Canadians. A greater number of Ontarians were interested in politics and believed they have a duty to vote, but fewer were voting.

The stated goal of the report is to “help governments to develop and improve policies, companies to improve productivity, organizations to innovate, and people across Ontario and the rest of Canada to live more satisfying lives.”

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