Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Canadians' well-being takes a hit: Romanow

Living standards deteriorate, new report says

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A former premier says Canada's economy may be recovering from the global recession but our quality of life isn't doing nearly as well.

"We are in a post-recession period, so-called," Roy Romanow said Monday afternoon. "The recession hit Canadians hard but the recovery is a lot slower than hard numbers such as the GDP would indicate."

Romanow, the premier of Saskatchewan from 1991 to 2001, is the advisory board co-chairman to the Canadian Index of Wellbeing. Its second report on the state of our country's health, education and safety, among other factors, will be released this morning.

The report, titled How Are Canadians Really Doing?, shows an overall drop in Canadians' well-being from 2008 to 2010. From 1994 to 2010, Canada's economy grew by almost 30 per cent as measured by the GDP. Improvements in well-being showed just a 5.7 per cent increase over the same period.

The hard economic stats say we're doing well; softer data on perceptions of public safety or access to adequate housing tell a less positive story.

The living standards of Canadians, the report says, have deteriorated significantly since 2008.

"The past two to three years has revealed a slight widening of the income gap, reduced levels of economic security, a smaller percentage of the labour force employed, a reduction in the quality of employment, and... a dramatic increase in the percentage of the labour force out of work for a long period of time."

The gap in real after-tax average income grew by more than 40 per cent between 1994 and 2009.

Well-being was measured under community vitality, democratic engagement, education, environment, healthy populations, leisure and culture, living standards and time use.

"As the gap between those at the top and those at the bottom continues to grow in Canada, it is important to recognize that societies with greater inequality are shown to have worse health and well-being outcomes," Romanow and co-chairwoman Monique Bégin say in the report.

Romanow cites community vitality as an important factor in well-being. The term refers to what's going on in our neighbourhoods, whether we feel socially isolated and whether we are engaged in our communities. The report says community vitality has increased every year since 2002. Property crimes are at an all-time low since the baseline year of 1994; violent crime has dropped every year since 2001 and is at its lowest national level since 1994.

Romanow says it's critical for governments to examine these data, much of it drawn from Statistics Canada, before making policy decisions.

"If the numbers say crime is down, does the government really need to be building larger and larger prisons? Could they not put that money back into communities?"

Winnipeg Foundation CEO Richard Frost says many of the report's conclusions match what he's seen here.

Donations to the foundation dropped dramatically from 2008 to 2009, to $19 million from roughly $25 million. They're back on track now.

"A lot of people are trying to do things right," Frost says. "Winnipeg has that can-do attitude."

He agrees housing is an issue, both for new Canadians and those in challenging financial circumstances.

The Winnipeg Foundation has launched programs in the past few years to help with recreation opportunities, feeding programs and educational boosts for children living in poverty.

To Frost, the number of people writing grant applications is an encouraging sign.

"We see social justice as being a fundamental issue in Winnipeg," he says. "All these (well-being indices) are about social equity."

Romanow says the Canadian Index of Wellbeing wants to ensure the government responds to the real needs of its citizens.

The health of Canadians has decreased since 2008, a trend that will continue as the population ages. He'd like to see government money directed at more health initiatives.

"We are all together in building this country called Canada," Romanow says. "The value of caring and sharing and opportunity for all is what defines Canada."

lindor.reynolds@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 23, 2012 A4

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About Lindor Reynolds

National Newspaper Award winner Lindor Reynolds began work at the Free Press as a 17-year-old proofreader. It was a rough introduction to the news business.

Many years later, armed with a university education and a portfolio of published work, she was hired as a Free Press columnist. During her 20-plus years on the job she has written for every section in the paper, with the exception of Business. She’ll get around to them some day.

Lindor has received considerable recognition for her writing. Her awards include the Will Rogers Humanitarian Award, the National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ general interest award and the North American Travel Journalists Association top prize.
Her work on Internet luring led to an amendment to the Criminal Code of Canada and her coverage of the child welfare system prompted a change to Manitoba Child and Family Services Act to make the safety of children paramount.

She has earned three citations of merit for the Michener Award for Meritorious Public Service in Journalism and has been awarded a Distinguished Alumni commendation from the University of Winnipeg. Lindor was also named a YMCA/YWCA  Woman of Distinction.

She is married with four daughters. If her house was on fire and the kids and dog were safe, she’d grab her passport.
 
lindor.reynolds@freepress.mb.ca

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