North

What it costs to live above the poverty line in Yukon and N.W.T.

A proposed tool to measure the poverty line in the Yukon and Northwest Territories shows large discrepancies between regions in the two territories and the rest of Canada.

Statistics Canada reveals proposed tool to measure the poverty line in the North

A file photo of Fort Good Hope, N.W.T. The community in the territory's Sahtu region is the most expensive place to live in either N.W.T. or Yukon, according to a proposed measurement tool by Statistics Canada. (Submitted by Benita T'Seleie-King)

The Northwest Territories' Sahtu region could be one of the most expensive places to live in Canada. 

A proposed tool to measure the poverty line in the Yukon and Northwest Territories shows a family of four living in the Sahtu in 2019 would need $73,848 in disposable income to have a "modest, basic standard of living."

The figure comes from a Statistics Canada discussion paper in partnership with Employment and Social Development Canada that was released Friday. It outlines a proposed formula for a Northern Market Basket Measure. 

The measure takes into account the cost of a “basket” of food, clothing, shelter, transportation and other necessities. (CBC)

The measure is a northern-specific version of the Market Basket Measure, otherwise known as Canada's official poverty line, used across the provinces.

The tool is not meant to determine eligibility for different programs, according to Burton Gustajtis, an economist with Statistics Canada and one of the authors of the report.

"The most important thing to know about this paper is that we want to foster engagement and seek feedback from anyone," he said

Work to develop a specific measure for Nunavut is ongoing. An update is expected spring of 2022.

The measurement is based on five categories: food, clothing, transportation, shelter and other necessities like the cost of a cell phone and internet, and was created in part by the territories' bureaus of statistics. Notably, it does not include child care costs.

The proposed measurement is tailored to the North, and factors in things like the cost of northern clothing and footwear, along with the cost of owning and operating an all-terrain vehicle and snowmobile in a fly-in community in the N.W.T.

In total, it measures how much disposable income a family of four needs in order to live what it calls "a modest, basic standard of living while accounting for adjustments needed to reflect life in Yukon and the Northwest Territories."

Disposable income is the amount of income after taxes and other expenses such as Canada Pension Plan, Employment Insurance and Registered Pension Plan contributions, union dues, child care expenses, spousal support payments, and direct medical expenses including private insurance premiums.

N.W.T. more expensive than Yukon

The data reveals a large disparity among regions in the two territories and the rest of Canada.

The figures show overall, the N.W.T. is more expensive than the Yukon.

In 2018, for instance, the N.W.T.'s Sahtu region had the highest poverty line — or threshold — at $72,526, while rural southern Yukon had the lowest at $50,895.

In 2019, Yellowknife ($60,971) was more expensive to live in than Whitehorse ($53,164).

Overall, the poverty line in the two territories are significantly higher compared to the rest of the country. In 2018, the thresholds ranged from $37,397 for Quebec communities with a population less than 30,000 people to $48,677 for Vancouver, according to Statistics Canada.

Shelter, food main reasons for differences 

The discrepancies between the two territories are mainly due to the cost differences in shelter and food, according to the report.

The threshold for shelter is based on the cost of a "modest three-bedroom rental unit" including utilities.

In the Sahtu, the shelter threshold in 2019 was estimated at $19,163, compared with $11,999 for Yukon's rural south. 

Yellowknife was by far the most expensive for shelter in 2019 at $25,728. The cost of shelter for the same year in Whitehorse was $19,028.

The Sahtu also had the highest threshold for food. In 2019, it was estimated to cost $22,682 to feed a family of four, compared with $12,706 for Whitehorse.

The cost of food only takes into account food purchased from stores. Moving forward, Statistics Canada says it will research how it can incorporate country food, along with data from Nutrition North Canada, to get a better understanding of the cost of a nutritious diet.

Overall, based on its proposed measurements, Statistics Canada estimates nine per cent of Yukoners in 2019 lived below the poverty line compared with 11.1 per cent in 2018, while the figure was 12.5 per cent in the N.W.T. for 2019, down from 17.5 per cent in 2018.

Gustajtis cautions against making any assertions based on the data because there is only two years' worth.

Statistics Canada and Employment and Social Development Canada are now seeking input from experts, stakeholders, Indigenous organisations and federal, provincial and territorial officials to help validate the results. 

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