According to Statistics Canada, Alberta ranked seventh overall in life satisfaction with Prince Edward Island and Saskatchewan ranking No. 1 and No. 2.
Edmonton is ranked 30th and Calgary 23rd among 33 Canadian cities, in terms of life satisfaction in the most recent survey measuring Canadian happiness.
Hard to believe, isn’t it? After all, at $84,390, Alberta has the highest per capita income in the nation.
Now look at these figures:
- One in five working Albertans (20%) earns less than a living wage ($15/hour);
- The average Alberta household debt is $124,838, adding strain to family life and unnecessary stresses on the healthcare system;
- 21.1% of Albertans experience of lot of stress in their lives (Alberta ranked 10th among the provinces and territories), with Newfoundland being the least stressed province (15.2%.) Only 63.6% of Albertans felt a strong sense of belonging to their community. That placed us 12th, just ahead of lowest-ranked Quebec. Nunavut has the highest sense of belonging.
Let’s not forget our unfunded social and human capital liabilities, either. Our First Nations, for example, are living in poverty and hopelessness with high rates of suicide.
The Genuine Wealth Institute has estimated that the province’s Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI), a broad measure of societal well-being (what I like to call the Happiness Index), declined 0.5% per year between 1961 and 2003. Meanwhile, real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita increased steadily by about 2.2% per year. I guess it’s true that money can’t buy happiness.
Today, in the midst of another provincial election, maybe it is time to move on to a new aspirational vision for Alberta. It would be based on individual and collective ‘happiness,’ using our abundant natural assets (oil, gas, agricultural land, forests and clean water), our human capital, our social capital (relationships, trust) and our entrepreneurial spirit to build a better, more just economy.
But using a well-being-based investment approach to governing the province would require establishing a new strategic vision for the future.
Maybe the past can offer us some guidance.
When Peter Lougheed was elected premier in 1971, he led his team with a new vision for Alberta that included championing the oil and gas industry and developing the oil sands. But his vision also included collecting a fair share of royalties based on the value of oil and gas sales and putting aside 30% or more of this money in Alberta’s Heritage Savings and Trust Fund. He did this to ensure Albertans received an appropriate return-on-equity for our natural resources.
During the Lougheed years, royalties on oil and gas averaged 27% of their value. Unfortunately, beginning in 1985 the rate of return to Albertans from oil and gas sales has been steadily falling, reaching its lowest level during Alison Redford’s tenure.
The Alberta government (as do all governments in Canada) currently operates without a balance sheet, so my first recommendation would be that we conduct a review of the real total wealth held by the province.
That review will give us the tools to properly manage our natural capital and optimize our human and social capital assets as well. It could be a game-changer for the province.
Alberta could become a model economy of well-being following the lead of China and Bhutan which have both adopted a new economic paradigm based on well-being and happiness.
The Chinese model is based on the ancient Confucian idea of ‘xiaokang,’ which means ‘a society of well-being’ where economic growth is balanced with sometimes-conflicting goals of social equality and environmental protection.
Given the present unhappy state of our province’s well-being, I encourage all Albertans to ask their candidates during the provincial election if they would support an economy of well-being that would create a much better future for our children and grandchildren.
Mark Anielski is an economist and co-founder of the Genuine Wealth Institute, an economic think-tank whose mission is to provide practical ideas, analytics and solutions for businesses, communities, and nations in building the new economy of well-being. His column is distributed through Troy Media.