Why Saskatchewan's claim that province is 'most affordable' in Canada doesn't add up

Darrylynn Klyne, a housing and outreach support worker at North Central Family Centre in Regina, says as a mother of two children, the high cost of living is 'challenging.' (Sam Samson/CBC - image credit)
Darrylynn Klyne, a housing and outreach support worker at North Central Family Centre in Regina, says as a mother of two children, the high cost of living is 'challenging.' (Sam Samson/CBC - image credit)

Darrylynn Klyne doesn't buy fresh fruit anymore because it costs too much. She buys frozen fruit instead.

For the working mother of two in Regina, every cent counts.

"With the high cost of living and the inflation right now, it's a bit challenging," said the 23-year-old, who earns $22 an hour working as a housing and outreach support worker at the North Central Family Centre in Regina.

Klyne said she's able to connect with her clients because she saw her father work hard to bring her family out of poverty.

"I understand their perspective," she said.

In its latest budget, delivered on Wednesday, the Saskatchewan Party government claims the province is the most affordable place to live in Canada: "Overall Saskatchewan is the most affordable place in Canada when combined taxes, utilities and housing costs are compared across the country," the document says.

But some advocates and economists say that only applies to those who are already able to get by.

Regina compared with other cities

In its 2023-24 budget, the government combined housing costs in Regina with provincial utilities and taxes, using publicly available data. Staff then compared that total with the same costs in other Canadian cities.

According to the provincial data, Saskatchewan is the most affordable province for families of four who own their homes and bring in more than $75,000 a year.

It's the second-most affordable province for single people who rent and earn at least $40,000 a year.

But the 2021 Canadian census shows that the median total income for single individuals in Saskatchewan is $42,400, which means that almost half don't fit into the province's affordability formula.

Province using 'pseudo families' for formula

Joel Bruneau, head of the economics department at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, said the government's math does offer an accurate comparison across Canadian cities, but it omits some realities.

"They're pseudo families," he said of the province's criteria. "It's not capturing what actual people might be living."

While Saskatchewan is the second-richest province per capita in Canada, more than half of people living in the province say they are financially worse off than they were last year, according to a recent Angus Reid Institute poll.

Travis Reddaway/CBC
Travis Reddaway/CBC

Even if a family or individual does fit the criteria, Bruneau said, they may have costs cutting into their household budget that the province didn't account for.

"If you have two small children and you're searching for daycare, that could be a struggle. If you're trying to take care of an aging parent and struggling to find long-term care, that can be a struggle," he said.

"By essentially arguing that we're affordable for everybody, I think we gloss over the fact that there are a lot of people that are struggling."

Saskatchewan's finance minister, Donna Harpauer, said on Wednesday that the budget is meant to help those who really need it.

Heywood Yu/The Canadian Press
Heywood Yu/The Canadian Press

"We definitely focused on the most vulnerable in that we enhanced a lot of programs for the low income," she said.

"We're hearing that inflation is going to level out, but it's still a pressure right now, and we're well aware of that."

Funding boosted to assistance programs

Last year, the province handed out $500 cheques to residents as a way to help with affordability issues. That won't happen this year, as the projected provincial surplus of $1 billion for 2023-24 will be used to pay off debt — which is forecast to hit $30.9 billion by the end of March 2024.

Instead, the province increased funding to income assistance programs, such as boosting the Saskatchewan Income Support benefit and the Saskatchewan Assured Income for Disability by $30 a month each.

Adam Bent/CBC
Adam Bent/CBC

Peter Gilmer was hoping for a $300 increase.

"There is an affordability crisis, and that crisis is much more intense for low-income people," said Gilmer, who's worked with people living in poverty for 30 years. He now works as an advocate with the Regina Anti-Poverty Ministry.

Gilmer said the claim that Saskatchewan is the most affordable province in Canada isn't true for everyone.

"It is particularly not the case for people living in poverty who have really been legislated into poverty," he said, citing stagnant income assistance programs in the province.

"We also have the lowest minimum wage in the country," he said. Saskatchewan's minimum wage is $13 an hour.

"So for the working poor who are stuck at very low wages, the ability to meet cost-of-living factors nowadays is extremely tough."