Breaking down Canadians' questions about the cost of living

How is the economy performing? What's the unemployment rate? Are interest rates going to go up? Why is it so expensive to rent?

It's the number one concern among Canadians heading into the fall federal election

When asked what their main issue was ahead of the 2019 federal election, almost one-third of respondents said the cost of living. (Reuters)

When asked what their greatest concern is going into the fall election, Canadians put the cost of living at the top of the list by a wide margin, according to a poll commissioned in late May by CBC News.

One-third of Canadians surveyed said it was their number one concern, followed by climate change, which was the top concern of 19 per cent of respondents.

How is Canada's economy performing?

Despite the perceived anxieties, Canada's economy has actually been performing quite well. At the end of August, Statistics Canada reported that Canada's economy expanded for the fourth month in a row in June, with 17 of the 20 industries that the data agency tracks growing.

What's more, from April to June, Canada's economy grew at a 3.7 per cent annual pace. That's better than what economists were expecting, and the fastest pace in more than two years.

The majority of Canadians say they have to think about money, but they're getting by. Just over one in 10 say they are not getting by.

What is the unemployment rate?

Canada's jobless rate remained at 5.7 per cent for a second month in September, as the economy added 81,100 net new positions, the bulk of which were part time, in the services sector and picked up by young people.

"Stepping back from the monthly swings, the trend remains healthy — a 30,000 average pace of hiring over the last six months is healthy by any measure," Brian DePratto, a senior economist with TD Economics, told CBC News.

Wages in Canada are also on the rise after a long period of stagnation. In  August, Statistics Canada reported that wages increased by 4.5 per cent in the past 12 months, the fastest annual pace in a decade.

Are Canadians still carrying too much debt?

Definitely. For every dollar Canadians earn, they owe about $1.77.

There is some good news. In the first quarter of 2019, Canadians took on less credit debt.

But their total debt levels — including mortgages, credit card debt, and all other forms of personal debt — continue to grow.

Are interest rates going to go up?

The Bank of Canada left its central rate unchanged in September for the seventh cycle in a row. It sits at 1.75 per cent.

"Canada's economy is operating close to potential and inflation is on target," the bank said. "However, escalating trade conflicts and related uncertainty are taking a toll on the global and Canadian economies."

In short, the bank will adjust if necessary, cutting its rate if it feels it needs to to stimulate the economy and raising it in order to tame inflation.

Economists and other market watchers are split on whether a rate cut is coming this fall.

The last time there was a rate change was in October 2018, when it was increased by 0.25 per cent.

Is the housing market going to collapse?

According to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), the housing market is actually doing a little better today than it had been for the past two years or so.

The CMHC says there's little evidence of widespread overheating, price acceleration or overbuilding. But there's enough overvaluation to warrant a yellow flag, indicating a "moderate" level of vulnerability.

As usual, there are a few regions that raise some concern. Regina was given a red warning for overbuilding, while Victoria, Hamilton and Toronto's markets were given a red — or "high" — overall.

The CMHC's grading system found a 'moderate' level of vulnerability in the housing market overall, with pockets of higher risk in some places. (CMHC)

Is it possible to rent an apartment in Canada on minimum wage?

According to a study released in July, the answer is overwhelmingly no. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) used data from Statistics Canada and the CMHC to evaluate almost 800 neighbourhoods across Canada's three dozen largest cities.

It concluded that a minimum wage earner could afford a one- or two-bedroom apartment in just 24 neighbourhoods across the country, out of 795 analyzed.

Where is it most expensive/cheapest to rent?

It will come as no surprise to hear that it is most expensive to rent in the biggest cities: Toronto and Vancouver. 

The CCPA study found only three cities where the local minimum wage would be enough to comfortably afford a one- or two-bedroom apartment and have enough left over for other expenses (about two-thirds of earnings), if working 40 hours a week.

All are in Quebec: Sherbrooke, Saguenay and Trois-Rivières.

Why is it so expensive to eat well? 

This recent episode from Marketplace looks into the vast discrepancy in food prices in Iqaluit versus in Winnipeg to try to discern why it costs so much more to buy groceries in the North.

But it's just not only Canadians living in the North who are feeling the pinch.

After the release of the new Canada Food Guide earlier this year, Angus Reid polled Canadians about whether they would be able to eat the way the guide recommended. Four in 10 respondents called the recommendations "unrealistic."