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It now costs more to afford basic necessities in Calgary than in Vancouver, Toronto: StatsCan

Calgary's poverty threshold, according to Statistics Canada, is now $55,771 — the highest of all major Canadian cities. Communities in Nunavut, Northwest Territories and Yukon top the list. (David Bajer/CBC - image credit)
Calgary's poverty threshold, according to Statistics Canada, is now $55,771 — the highest of all major Canadian cities. Communities in Nunavut, Northwest Territories and Yukon top the list. (David Bajer/CBC - image credit)

It now costs more to afford basic necessities in Calgary than in any other major city in the country — including Vancouver and Toronto — according to Statistics Canada's updated market basket measure.

The market basket measure is Canada's official measure of household income poverty. It defines how much a family of four would have to earn to afford a basic standard of living, and that's calculated by the cost of a basket of basic goods and services, including food, clothing, shelter and transportation.

Families are considered to be living below the poverty line if their disposable income is less than their city's market basket measure.

New data, from 2022, shows that Calgary's annual market basket measure is $55,771 — up from $51,861 the previous year.

That's compared with $55,727 in Vancouver and $55,262 in Toronto. Edmonton is in fourth place at $55,225, and Ottawa-Gatineau is in fifth spot.

Charles St-Arnaud, chief economist with Alberta Central, said he isn't surprised by the numbers.

While housing is widely known to cost more in the two larger cities, he said other goods and services cost more in Alberta — like electricity and insurance, for example.

Canada's economy has basically stalled, says Charles St-Arnaud, chief economist at Alberta Central.
Canada's economy has basically stalled, says Charles St-Arnaud, chief economist at Alberta Central.

Alberta Central chief economist Charles St-Arnaud says market basket measures, relative to a region's median income, would be a better calculation to understand how expensive cities actually are. (Kyle Bakx/CBC)

But he said the market basket measure on its own doesn't tell the whole story.

"We still have higher income than the rest of the country," said St-Arnaud.

So while Calgarians' baskets cost more, it's possible people in other provinces feel the pinch more, said St-Arnaud.

According to the latest census data, Albertans' median employment income per individual in 2020 was $41,600 — still below Calgary's market basket measure (for a household), but higher than Ontario and B.C. at $38,000 each.

But St-Arnaud noted the income gap is shrinking.

"[Albertans' incomes are] not increasing as fast as in the rest of the country, so we're seeing a convergence," he said.

Farewell to the Alberta advantage

Meaghon Reid advocates for strategies to address the root causes of poverty in Calgary, as executive director of Vibrant Communities Calgary.

She says it's important to remember that Alberta has some of the highest income inequality in Canada — meaning the province has the biggest gap between people who make a lot, and people who make very little.

"Because of that, we know that a lot of people at those lower income levels are really far away from even being near that market basket measure line, and I think we have to take that into consideration," said Reid.

Meaghon Reid with Vibrant Communities Calgary says their community advisory team flagged rising food costs as an urgent issue during the summer.
Meaghon Reid with Vibrant Communities Calgary says their community advisory team flagged rising food costs as an urgent issue during the summer.

Meaghon Reid is the executive director of Vibrant Communities Calgary. (Claudia T Photography)

In conversations with those living around and below the poverty line, Reid says people are feeling anxious, panicked and resigned that the situation will continue worsening.

She says Calgarians need income-geared solutions to tackle poverty. Like revisiting income support rates and ensuring wages increase with the cost of living.

"If we don't do that, my fear is that people fall further and further into poverty, and we know that it's really expensive to service poverty in the long-term," she said.

"This is something that, with the wealth we have in this province, we can tackle pretty quickly — but there needs to be some urgency behind it."

For now, she says, these rising costs could mean farewell to the Alberta advantage.