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Arnold Taylor, an organic flax grower and Chair of the Organic Agriculture Protection Fund of the Saskatchewan Organic Directorate, looks at his crop at his farm near Kenaston, Sask. When it comes to the economy, the outlook on jobs and the ability to afford even the most basic things in life, Prairie dwellers are more optimistic than the rest of the country, a new survey found. (GEOFF HOWE/GEOFF HOWE FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL)
Arnold Taylor, an organic flax grower and Chair of the Organic Agriculture Protection Fund of the Saskatchewan Organic Directorate, looks at his crop at his farm near Kenaston, Sask. When it comes to the economy, the outlook on jobs and the ability to afford even the most basic things in life, Prairie dwellers are more optimistic than the rest of the country, a new survey found. (GEOFF HOWE/GEOFF HOWE FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

Canadians find happiness on the Prairies Add to ...

People are happier in the Prairies.

When it comes to the economy, the outlook on jobs and the ability to afford even the most basic things in life, Prairie dwellers are more optimistic than consumers in British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes.

Sharp regional differences in attitude, illustrated in a new survey to be released Thursday, highlight the expansive nature of the resource economy in the West, versus the decline in manufacturing and other sectors in the East.

Eighty-four per cent of respondents from the Prairies think their provincial economy will be stronger a year from now, while only about 60 per cent in most other regions feel that way. In Quebec, less than 45 per cent think the provincial economy will improve in the next year, according to the survey, conducted among 1,500 Canadians by Gandalf Group for advertising agency Bensimon Byrne.

Prairie residents are also more optimistic about the national economy as a whole: Eighty-six per cent predict that the Canadian economy will be stronger in a year, while only 55 per cent of Quebeckers feel that way.

When it comes to personal finances, almost 70 per cent of Prairie residents said their situation has improved from a year ago, compared with 50 per cent in Atlantic Canada and Quebec and around 55 per cent in Ontario and British Columbia.

The dichotomy is “stunning,” said David Herle, principal of Gandalf Group.

“It is really a reflection of the healthier economy [on the Prairies]” he noted. “It is the only place where people say that they’ve seen wage gains, and it’s the only place where people aren’t feeling insecure about the job market.”

Lance Wirth, an executive with Sure Energy Inc. in Calgary, agreed that the more positive attitude in the West is clearly driven by economic factors: “Oil prices are high. There is lots of drilling, there are lots of jobs. Because there is demand for workers in the energy industry, there are a lot of job openings in other industries too.”

While “you kind of feel sorry for other people in other parts of the country where the economy is not doing so well,” Mr. Wirth said, he thinks the good news in the Prairies can have indirect spinoffs elsewhere. For example, the job openings in Alberta can help dampen unemployment problems elsewhere if people are prepared to move to get work, he said.

“You don’t have to come to Alberta to feel the benefit,” he said. “It can only help the entire country.”

Mr. Herle noted that the optimistic attitude does not extend to British Columbia, “which is more like Ontario than it is like the Prairies.”

Research shows that people don’t open their wallets based on what they think will happen to the national economy, but rather are governed by what is happening in their own life, Mr. Herle said. “That’s why we don’t see spending resurgence anywhere else in the country, because there have been no income gains anywhere else in the country.”

The survey underlines that many Canadians are suffering significant financial strain, because their incomes have nor kept pace with increased costs, Mr. Herle said.

More than 30 per cent of respondents said they are making less money than they were in 2007, one-third said their savings or investments are worth less, and 20 per cent said their job is less secure.

“Economic growth, as it matters to individuals, is not there,” Mr. Herle said.

“You have between a quarter and a third of Canadians who say they have a less-than-adequate budget for groceries, for housing, for clothing, for electricity costs, [and]for transportation. If they are parents, [they don’t have enough]for education for their kids or for extracurricular activities for their kids. There is a subset of the population that is struggling to manage with just the essentials.”

One bright light is that almost two-thirds of Canadians said their house or condo is worth more than it was in 2007. But this dependence on house prices to prop up individual net worth also has a dark lining, Mr. Herle said.

“If you took away house prices, people … would be in really difficult financial straits. In the last five years, the only thing that has improved for most people is the value of their house.”

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A TALE OF TWO REGIONS

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PRAIRIES

The level of optimism among Prairie dwellers is remarkably high, likely a result of booming resource economy in Alberta and Saskatchewan, the abundance of jobs in the region, and the resulting upward pressure on salaries. The positive vibe from people who live on the Prairies extends to their views of the Canadian economy as a whole, according to the findings of the Bensimon Byrne Consumerology Report.

86%

Portion of survey respondents on the Prairies who say that a year from now, the Canadian economy will be stronger.

20%

Portion who “strongly agree the economy in my region could be in trouble.”

84%

Portion who say that “a year from now my provincial economy will be stronger.”

69%

Portion who say their personal financial situation is better than it was a year ago.

30%

Portion who say they are “more optimistic” about the job market than they were in 2007.

------------------

QUEBEC

While no region can compete with the Prairies for positive feelings about the economy, Quebeckers are the least optimistic about both the economy and their personal financial situation, the survey found. They are saving less, are more worried about jobs, and are less likely to have had a raise recently than their compatriots on the Prairies.

55%

Portion of Quebec respondents who say that a year from now, the Canadian economy will be stronger.

45%

Portion who “strongly agree the economy in my region could be in trouble.”

43%

Portion who say that “a year from now my provincial economy will be stronger.”

49%

Portion who say their personal financial situation is better than it was a year ago.

18%

Portion who say they are “more optimistic” about the job market than they were in 2007.

Richard Blackwell

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