The number one issue for Canadians in 2024: The unaffordable cost of living

There is a pervasive worry about the unaffordable cost of living. The bromides offered by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the governing Liberals provide no relief for individuals and families challenged with the basics of life: putting food on the table and a roof over their heads. Photo Credit: Chris Wattle/Reuters.

Canadians enter this year with a high level of anxiety and mounting financial strain that many have never experienced. There is a pervasive worry about the unaffordable cost of living. The bromides offered by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the governing Liberals provide no relief for individuals and families challenged with the basics of life: putting food on the table and a roof over their heads. 

State-sponsored broadcaster CBC has recently shared profiles of Canadians – literally from one coast to the other – in dire straits. There is the story of a Conception Bay, Newfoundland mother who now goes hungry for her family. Tara Saunders shared, “My husband and I sometimes went without because we wanted to make sure what we did have — it was given to the children.” In despair she turned for assistance from a local community charity, which now alarmingly supports more than 30,000 members looking for food and clothing handouts. 

Then there is the CBC story about metro-Vancouver, gainfully employed resident Stephanie Watts who made the hard decision to forgo exchanging Christmas presents. Watts explains, “On paper, I make what should be a comfortable middle-class living wage but it’s just not cutting it anymore. It’s exhausting, you know, the constant calculating: ‘OK, how much are all these things going to cost? How can I pack as many things as I can into this one errand so that I can save some gas?’ If we are feeling that what are people on the low-income spectrum feeling?”

Cost of living pressures are top of mind for a majority of Canadians. A recent MNP Consumer Debt survey reveals three in five Canadians state their financial situation is causing them anxiety and as many are worried about repaying their debts. Nearly one in five Canadians have already tapped into savings and sources of equity to pay day-to-day expenses. 

Here’s the bottom line: the cost of living in the country has become unaffordable for many. In 2023, there were numerous news reports of growing line-ups for food banks, students dumpster-diving, people moving into shelters and tent communities because they cannot find accommodation. There were even those who arrange for state-assisted suicide (MAID) because they could not cope with their living standards.  

Here are statistics and the latest reports revealing the human struggles taking place across our country. 

On food costs: The federal government records an annual food inflation of 14 per cent for basic groceries like hamburger and peanut butter, 20 per cent for baby formula, and 27 per cent for white sugar. In 2023, Canada’s Food Price Report (CFPR) stated a family of four had an annual grocery bill of $16,288.40 and it estimates this bill will increase by $700 next year. A University of Toronto study revealed almost six million Canadians – 15.9 per cent of all households – are experiencing food insecurity in the country. 

A Dalhousie University study reported 45 per cent of Canadians now shop according to cost rather than to food’s nutritional value, and half of Canadians have reduced buying meat because of the high cost. A recent Ipso Reid poll also showed half of Canadians said they are staying home to save money for necessities, and almost two in five are worried they will not be able to feed their families. Last year was the first time in the CFPR’s history that families spent less on average on groceries than in the preceding year.

Last week Blacklock’s Reporter provided further data on rising food pricing and placed this mounting cost into context of what the Trudeau government promised in the fall of 2023. In Statistics Canada’s grocery cart of goods, more than half of the food items (59 of 106) increased, some climbing more than 10 per cent. This is after Trudeau and senior cabinet ministers promised to work with the grocery industry and stabilize prices. Trudeau stated in September: “We have gathered the CEOs of the big grocery chains today to make sure they have a plan to stabilize prices for Canadians right across the country. Food is too expensive for too many families and they’re making record profits.”

On housing: The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC) reported 65 per cent of Canadians holding mortgages today are having difficulties paying them, and more than half of these struggling Canadians are sinking further into debt by having to use their savings to meet their monthly payments. There are presently 6.08 million homeowners with mortgages who must renegotiate their mortgages in 2024 and 2025 at the higher interest rates of four to five per cent. Just one in four Canadians can afford to buy a single-family home right now, according to a recent report by RBC. Canadians who want to buy are unable to because of rising market prices and high interest rates. Two in three Canadians who rent are having difficulties paying their monthly rent, according to the FCAC. Fifty-nine per cent of Canadian renters are using their savings to pay their monthly rent.

Statistics Canada tracked annual rent increases of over seven per cent on average in November, which was one of the biggest drivers to the increase in the Consumer Price Index. CMHC breaks this figure down to report that, last year, landlords increased rental rates on units with new tenants by 18 per cent on average, as compared to an average three per cent increase for tenants who remained in their units. The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Toronto is $2,572. To sign a rental agreement, a person must provide first and last month’s rent – often more than a person makes in one month. 

On home heating: Statistics Canada reported this fall that roughly one in seven Canadian households reduced or did without buying necessities, such as food and medicine, for at least one month over the past 12 months to pay an energy bill. Half that number went without basic needs for at least three months to pay for heat. Statistics Canada also reports about one in seven Canadian households, or 14 per cent, kept their dwelling at an “unsafe or uncomfortable temperature” for up to a month in the past 12 months because of high heating or cooling costs.

Last winter three in four Canadians who pay home heating costs experienced increases in their heating bills, according to a Maru Public Opinion survey. One in four said their heating bill “increased very much.” With this increasing financial strain there is a growing concern for Canadians’ mental health. The MNP Consumer Debt survey found finances are causing a greater sense of anxiety (60 per cent), stress (59 per cent), isolation (48 per cent), and embarrassment (40 per cent). In that previously mentioned CBC item from Vancouver, social outreach worker Anita Lau sums up an average Canadian’s existence. “It’s spend less, eat less, socialize less. We try to survive.”

The Final Word

So it is, in a country managed for eight years by the Trudeau government. Today a majority of Canadians see that their personal finances are worse off than when Trudeau took office in 2015, according to a Bloomberg News poll conducted by Nanos Research. Back then, the Liberals campaigned to “help the middle class and those aspiring to join it.” However, as Lorne Gunter of Sun Media editorializes: “Far from defending the middle class, the Liberals are choking the life out of it.”

Just as that well-known “boiling frog” analogy would have it, Canadians are starting to feel the heat as the Trudeau government’s policies have the water beginning a rolling boil. And, consider that as the temperature continues to increase through 2024 and 2025 with this government’s fiscal and economic policies, the anxiety will increase and there is sure to be a societal toll that will be paid: further bankruptcies and insolvencies, rising addiction rates, higher crime rates, suicides, all mirroring Canada’s unaffordable cost of living.

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