Where Canada ranks on the COVID-19 'misery index'

A “misery index” suggests that overall well-being in Canada has suffered more than average in pandemic, ranking 11th out of 15 countries on a scale of miserableness

National Post Staff 3 minute read March 8, 2021

A nurse guides people being tested for COVID-19 outside a hospital in Toronto December 10, 2020. Chris Helgren / REUTERS

OTTAWA — Canada has had a miserable time coping with COVID-19, according to new research that seeks to take the broadest possible measure of the country’s pandemic response, accounting for everything from mortality rates to economic malaise.

A “misery index” published by the Ottawa-based Macdonald-Laurier Institute on Monday suggests that overall well-being in Canada has suffered more than average, ranking 11th out of 15 countries on a scale of miserableness.

The index compiled 16 broad measures — mortality rates, visits to intensive-care units, the pace of vaccinations, lockdown stringency, GDP changes and unemployment, among other things — and rated Canada’s performance on a scale from zero to 100 in each category.

While Canada was spared the worst ravages of the disease, our response to it has brought significant misery

Overall, Canada ranked higher than other countries in terms of curbing the virus itself, but was among the worst on the question of economic impact and pandemic response, placing 13th and 14th, respectively. It placed 6th out of 15 countries in containing the virus.

The findings point to the immense challenge facing governments in their pandemic responses as they seek to strike a balance between civil liberties, the costs of massive support programs and the risk of uncontrolled spread of COVID-19. The Liberal government avoided the early spikes in mortality rates that befell some countries, but has also assumed more new debt per capita than any other developed nations as it continues to dole out generous pandemic relief benefits.

“While Canada was spared the worst ravages of the disease, our response to it has brought significant misery, largely attributable to quite strong restrictions in behaviour and a lagging vaccination program,” the report said. “The economic misery has been severe, and the projections are that Canadian taxpayers will be paying this bill for some time to come.”

Norway had the best ranking on the misery index overall, followed by New Zealand, Australia and Sweden. Canada placed 11th, followed by Italy, France, the U.K., and finally Spain. The U.S. ranked 9th.

High unemployment and public borrowing levels in particular made Canada “significantly worse than average, indicating an inefficient, costly response,” according to MLI. Misery tied to unemployment in Canada was determined to be 97 on a scale of 100, compared with a global average of 45. Among the other worst indicators was the projected assumption of new government debt (96, compared with an average of 48), and vaccination rollout (70, compared with 52).

There’s been heaps of misery to go around

Meanwhile, federal and provincial governments in Canada placed well above average on the question of “disease misery,” with low ICU visits giving it a misery ranking of just 5, compared with a global average of 49. Low hospitalization rates also marked a “significant success” in the Canadian response, according to the report, putting Canada at 11 on the scale compared to 50 in the rest of the world.

Rick Audus, who created the index on behalf of MLI, said the study was an attempt to ascribe value to the wide range of difficulties faced by the public during the last year of pandemic lockdowns.

“There’s been heaps of misery to go around,” he said.

Audus said he hoped these or similar findings could help instruct future government responses in times of emergency.

“People talk about these things conceptually, we talk a lot about the pain and the suffering from the pandemic, the mental health issues, things like that,” he said. “But I think it’s useful to actually sit down and look at the numbers as a whole. We want to be able to learn from this terrible, terrible series of events.”


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