Start the Conversation! An introduction to the Canadian Index of Wellbeing





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Published on Oct 17, 2011

Canada is at the threshold of a defining moment, a defining moment of change, a moment of innovation, and of clarity. This is the Canadian Index of Wellbeing, a new way of focusing on how we're doing in Canada: not just how much our economy is growing, but how well we live.

But let's start at the beginning. There are times in history when destabilizing world events turn into defining moments for change and innovation. In the twentieth century, two global events destabilized entire nations: the Great Depression and World War II. Then, gross domestic product, or GDP, became the standard way to assess economic prosperity. GDP is a composite index based on a complicated formula that tells us whether an economy is growing or shrinking. Worldwide, GDP has become the most popular way to measure the economic status of a nation; but GDP has its limits. It reveals the dollars and cents of a nation but it can't tell us if economic growth is translating into a better quality of life.

Now we have a true partner to the GDP: the Canadian Index of Wellbeing (CIW). It isn't just a number; it reflects real life. It tells us how we're really doing, where we're making progress, and where we're falling behind. Some of Canada's leading thinkers answered the call to create a new way of measuring our quality of life, in all its dimensions. After extensive public consultation, the CIW chose 64 indicators rooted in Canadian values. These indicators make up the core of the CIW's 8 main categories, what we call domains.

Starting with our base year of 1994, the CIW offers a composite index that's more comprehensive and realistic than GDP alone. It's something that can guide us on questions that run deeper than economic growth.

The CIW tells us whether our health is getting better, or worse; whether housing is becoming more affordable or out of reach; whether we have enough time for leisure, culture, and quality family time. It helps spot troubling trends that policy makers can address. Things like the growing gap between rich and poor, a drop in the number of years lived in good health, or soaring greenhouse gases that jeopardize our health and economy. It also tells us where we're improving; for example, fewer teenagers smoking and more connected communities.

Add up all of the 64 indicators in 8 domains and what you get is a reflection of how Canadians are really doing in life. Until now we've never had a way of measuring whether economic growth equals a better quality of life. Clearly, a healthy economy is important but can we really call it progress if it comes at the expense of our personal time, a more stressful life, and a planet left in peril for our children and grandchildren?

The CIW shows us that as a nation we have choices. We can have a thriving economy, and raise the quality of life for all Canadians. By twinning GDP with the CIW, Canadians can see how close we're coming to creating the kind of country we want for ourselves and future generations. And governments of all levels can use the information to guide them towards smarter, more time sensitive decision making. It's why the CIW is more than just a number; it's a reflection of how we live, regardless of whether GDP is growing or shrinking. It's a made-in-Canada innovation and we're proud to launch it into the world during such a defining moment.

What choices would you make? We challenge each of you to start the conversation!


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