CANMORE – Canmore continues to be the most expensive place to live in Alberta, according to a new report on living wages.
The Alberta Living Wage Network (ALWN)’s annual living wage study indicated an hourly wage of $38.80 was needed to live in Canmore – which combined with previous studies from Statistics Canada on income inequality – outline the affordability issues faced by the mountain community.
“Having the highest living wage is not something we’re really happy about,” said Canmore Mayor Sean Krausert. “The living wage is an indicator. It’s not a suggestion for what the minimum wage must be or what everybody has to earn, but it’s an indicator of the cost of living in the community. As such, it really confirms what we already knew and that’s Canmore has the highest cost of living in the province.”
Krausert said the biggest impact on cost of living for Canmore residents continues to be housing.
He noted council and municipal staff have worked to bring both rental and housing to purchase to address needs in the community.
“If we’re to break down what would make the biggest difference for our living wage, it would come down to the cost of housing. … If we had sufficient attainable housing, whether for ownership or rent along the lines that is managed by Canmore Community Housing (CCH) and if we had sufficient amount to meet the need, our living wage indicator would drop to be in line to those next highest like Calgary and Fort McMurray,” he said.
“That is why this council and the Town of Canmore is focused very much on the housing aspect in terms of affordability and doing more in that regard than has ever been done.”
Krausert pointed to ongoing work with the Town’s Housing Action Plan as having a goal to increase non-market units and council’s recent adoption of the Palliser Trail area structure plan (ASP) that will eventually add more than 1,000 affordable housing units.
He added the Town is reviewing its inventory of available land to build on, looking at ways to use taxing to encourage permanent residency and possibly discourage secondary homeownership as well as using potential tools to encourage the private sector to create purpose-built rentals. The Town also submitted an application for the federal government’s Housing Accelerator Fund, which aims to help housing supply across the country.
“It confirms what we knew,” Krausert said. “It encourages us even more to do as much as possible as fast as possible to deal with the housing crisis.”
Canmore had the dubious honour of having the highest living wage in 2020, 2021 and 2022.
In 2020, its living wage was $30.97 for two adults with two children each working a 35-hour work week. That grew in 2021 to $37.40, but in 2022 a change in methodology to a weighted average had it come in at $32.75 an hour.
The weighted average is for a two-parent household with two children, a lone parent with one child and a person living on their own. The weighted average is meant to be what an employer would pay to receive ALWN certification.
Canmore first compiled a living wage number in 2015.
As part of the 2016 and 2021 censuses, Statistics Canada had Canmore as having the greatest income inequality in Canada.
The Gini index – also known as the Gini coefficient – measures income inequality within a community.
In Canmore, local initiatives such as CCH with its below-market rent and ownership options and fare-free public transit in Canmore for Roam are measures that assist affordability.
The childcare agreement between the provincial and federal governments in 2021 and the Canada Dental Benefit from the federal government are calculated to reduce living wages for people.
Provincial and federal affordability programs such as the federal grocery rebate, the Alberta affordability payments and the Alberta fuel tax relief program have also eased the living wage number creeping higher.
However, the living wage network noted since those affordability programs are temporary, if they’re discontinued the living wage number is expected to increase in 2024.
Josh Aldrich, the press secretary for Minister of Affordability and Utilities Nathan Neudorf, said affordability measures continue to be a focus of the provincial government.
He said the Affordability Payment Program provided $773 million for 1.4 million residents in addition to continuing the fuel tax pause through 2024 and rewards for good drivers with auto insurance as ways to address cost of living impacts.
“We continue to look at ways to help Albertans through this inflation crisis. … We are also working on solutions to high power bills that include addressing everything from volatility in the regulated rate option, the transmission and distribution system and other challenges within the electricity grid,” Aldrich said. “We will continue to work for Albertans to make life more affordable.”
The living wage study found wages have also not kept pace, with food prices having increased by 41 per cent since 2013 and hourly wages only climbing 24 per cent in the same time period.
According to the Job Resource Centre’s (JRC) fall labour market review, the average rental rates for a one-bedroom in Canmore is $2,347 and $2,886 for a two-bedroom unit. A three-bedroom is $4,439 and a studio or bachelor unit is averaged at $900.
The highest average wage for job ads posted with the JRC had social services and healthcare at $29.31 an hour, trades and labour at $25.40 an hour, and $24.64 an hour for office and administration. On the lower end, food and beverage front of house was $17.41 an hour and sales and services were $18.78 an hour.
A national rent study – National Rent Report – released by Rentals.ca and Urbanation on Tuesday (Nov. 14) stated rental asks in Canada have increased by $175 in the last six months and average $2,178.
The study analyzed 35 communities across Canada – with Calgary the closest market to Canmore – and found the lowest rent for a one-bedroom was in Saskatoon for $1,109 to the maximum of $2,872 in Vancouver. It found the provincial average for a one-bedroom was $1,514 and rose to $1,981 for a three-bedroom.
The living wage study worked with 16 Alberta municipalities and a living wage is defined as the hourly wage a person needs to cover the basic expenses and continue to have a modest standard of living after government transfers have been added and taxes considered.
After Canmore, the next closest was Jasper at $24.90 and Fort McMurray at $24.50. The lowest living wage of the 16 participating municipalities was Medicine Hat at $17.35 and Red Deer at $18.75.
The living wage network uses three household types – a two-parent and two-child family, a single-parent family with one child and a single person – to calculate the rates. The study assumes each adult works full-time hours, but also includes savings for unexpected costs, education and child care.
A spokesperson for the ALWN didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment from the Outlook, but in a media release the organization found housing remained the top impact for a person’s living wage.
“Despite increasing costs on just about everything – particularly shelter – we did see some things that put downward pressure on the living wages,” said Ryan Lacanilao, the ALWN coordinator. “Government affordability measures and the Canada Dental Benefit have helped families. What’s missing in Alberta is any real action on increasing minimum wage despite every single other province making increases.”
The study noted the majority of the 16 municipalities saw the living wage increase and housing was the biggest affordability issue for people in addition to rising utility costs.
The ALWN is both a network of municipalities and organizations with the goal of helping show the need for living wage in the province. In addition to the annual report, it certifies living wage employees in Alberta.
In addition to the adoption of the Palliser Trail ASP, council adopted the Three Sisters Village and Smith Creek ASPs that had been ordered to move forward by the Land and Property Rights Tribunal and upheld by the Court of Appeal. Combined, the two ASPs are estimated to have between 4,000 to 7,150 residential units – including 950 to 1,600 tourist homes and visitor accommodation units – it also has a minimum of 10 per cent being affordable housing.
“We can’t bring down the living wage overnight. We can’t solve the housing crisis overnight. The two are intricately linked. It takes a few years to get from the planning approval stage to actually seeing a finished project and it takes several years to have a large area built out,” Krausert said. “It is going to take patience by everyone. Council wants to see positive change for the housing crisis as soon as possible, so we also have to be patient as we push ahead as aggressively as possible.”
- Canmore: $38.80
- Jasper: $24.90
- Fort McMurray: $24.50
- St. Albert: $23.80
- Calgary: $23.70
- Medicine Hat: $17.35
- Red Deer: $18.75
- Grande Prairie: $18.90
- Brooks: $19.05
- Drayton Valley: $19.55