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Canada a good, not great, place to live

By Bernard

The Globe and Mail
Published Monday, Feb. 04 2013, 12:01 AM EST
Last updated Tuesday, Feb. 05 2013, 7:30 AM EST

Canada is widely considered one of the best places in the world to live, but a comparison of key socioecononomic indicators shows room for improvement if the country is going to rival some of its peers.  A report card to be released Monday by the Conference Board of Canada gives the country an overall “B” grade.  The mark, based on 17 measures that track self-sufficiency, equity and social cohesion, has not budged in the past two decades.

Canada shines on some measures, such as having low murder rates, high life satisfaction and acceptance of diversity.  But there are several areas in which it lags, including working-age poverty, voter turnout and gender income gap.  “Canada’s middle-of-the-pack ranking means it is not living up to its reputation or its potential,” the Ottawa-based independent think-tank said.  The country’s lower marks on child poverty, income inequality and gender equity “are troubling for a wealthy country.”

Canada winds up in seventh place out of 17 countries that the Conference Board ranks. It sits well behind the Scandanavian nations as well as the Netherlands and Austria, all of which make the honour roll.  But it’s well ahead of Japan and the United States, each of which received a dismal “D.”

The measure seeks to assess the degree to which the country is providing “a high and sustainable quality of life for all Canadians.”  And it notes that a strong social fabric contributes to sustainable economic prosperity. The indicators include income inequality, child poverty, jobless youth, disabled income, burglaries and suicides.

Here are some details on how Canada fares:

Income mobility
On this measure – which reflects equality of opportunity to scale up the income ladder – Canada scores well. In other words, children born to poor parents in Canada aren’t as likely to stay poor as adults as they would be in other countries such as the United States or Britain.

There are caveats, the report said.  A recent report by Statistics Canada showed there is less mobility at the very top of the income bracket – suggesting it’s getting tougher to become a top 1-per-center.

“Many Canadians seem to regard poverty as something that is an issue ‘over there’ rather than in their own country,” the study says.

Yet the gap between rich and poor has widened in recent decades, “and all age groups have felt the change.” The child poverty rate rose to 15.1 per cent from 12.8 per cent between the mid-1990s and the late 2000s. The working-age poverty rate rose to 11.1 per cent from 9.4 per cent. And the elderly poverty rate rose to 6.7 per cent from 2.9 per cent. The bump in child poverty is “particularly disheartening,” the paper said.

The recession also sent more Canadians into low-income status. The total low-income rate rose to 13 per cent in 2010 from 12.4 per cent in 2007.

Where Canada shines
There are several areas in which other countries could learn from Canada. The country is the best performer of the group of 17 on the acceptance of diversity. It also comes close to the top in a measure of life satisfaction. The other measures in which Canada outperforms are income mobility, elderly poverty, disabled income and the number of suicides.  It has also made strides in lowering burglary rates.