Across Canada, quality of life varies widely

Canadians are used to hearing their country ranks among the world's best places to live, but new research suggests that quality of life can depend a lot on where you live.

Province and territory big factors affecting how well we live, new study suggests

British Columbians, shown running into English Bay during the annual Polar Bear Swim in Vancouver, are among those Canadians with the highest quality of life, according to a new study comparing the country's provinces and territories. (Ben Nelms/Reuters)

Canadians are used to hearing their country ranks among the world's best places to live, but new research suggests that quality of life can depend a lot on where you live.

The first-ever quality-of-life comparison of provinces and territories to other countries suggests that while most Canadians live as well as anyone in the world, others are well down the list.

"I would think (the gap) is bigger than other countries in general," said Andrew Sharpe, director of the Centre for the Study of Living Standards, which released the results of its study early Friday.

"The gaps are so large."

Sharpe's team took the Human Development Index and applied it to provinces and territories. The index is a statistical tool in wide use around the world combining factors such as health, education and income to compare how well people in various countries live.

The researchers found that British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario and the Northwest Territories — jurisdictions home to the majority of Canadians — are in a five-way tie for third spot overall with the Netherlands. Norway and Australia ranked marginally higher.

Nunavut ranks far below

Other provinces and territories aren't far behind. Quebec, at 11, is next on the list while Prince Edward Island, the second-last jurisdiction, comes in at 24th.

"There are not great differences," said Sharpe.

Nunavut, however, is ranked 38, just above Hungary and Poland.

The gap between Nunavut and Prince Edward Island is greater than the gap between all other Canadian jurisdictions.

Quality of life in Nunavut was the lowest compared to the rest of Canada's provinces and territories, according to a Human Development Index study. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

"No, I'm not surprised," Sharpe said. "We know Nunavut has problems and we know Alberta's rich."

Nunavut routinely compares poorly with the rest of Canada. Life expectancy for its residents is only 72.4 years, well below the Canadian average of 81 years. Rates of suicide and tuberculosis are many times those for southern Canadians and Nunavummiut generally have two fewer years of education than their fellow citizens.

Sharpe's analysis, which was commissioned by the government of Nunavut, does suggest the gap may be closing. Over the period from 2000 to 2011, he found that Nunavut's index has improved at the rate of more than half a per cent a year, over twice the Canadian average.

"When you're at a low level, it's easier to do well," Sharpe said.

Sharpe cautions that the Human Development Index has flaws. It doesn't, for example, account for political freedom, sense of community or cost of living — a lack that boosts the rating of the N.W.T., where both wages and expenses are high.

But the index, used by the United Nations, does provide one of the few statistical ways to compare how people live in different parts of the world, he said.

"It's the granddaddy of all composite measures," he said. "It's a good place to start."