Comprehensive Wealth in Canada 2018 – Measuring What Matters in the Long Term

Comprehensive wealth measures the country’s produced, natural, human, financial and social capital.

By Robert Smith, Scott Vaughan, Kieran Clarke, David McLaughlin on October 26, 2018

Comprehensive wealth measures the country’s produced, natural, human, financial and social capital.

  • Produced capital is made up of the buildings, machinery and infrastructure owned by households, businesses and governments.
  • Natural capital includes the forests, lakes, minerals, fossil fuels, land and other elements that make up the natural environment.
  • Human capital is the value of the skills and knowledge bound up in the people that make up the workforce as represented by lifetime earning potential.
  • Financial capital includes stocks, bonds, bank deposits and other financial assets owned by households, businesses and governments.
  • Social capital measures the degree of civic engagement and trust/cooperation among the members of society.

Unlike GDP and other short-term indicators used to assess national progress, comprehensive wealth measures the assets that are the foundation of well-being in the long run. Examining data from Statistics Canada from 1980 to 2015, this report raises a number of red flags on the sustainability of Canadians' levels of prosperity, namely:

  • Unprecedented Canadian household debt.
  • The average lifetime earning potential of a Canadian has gone down—$496,000 in 2015 compared to $498,000 in 1980.
  • Reliance on foreign lenders for nearly three quarters of investment flows after 2012.
  • Concentration of business investment in produced capital in just two areas: housing and oil and gas extraction infrastructure.
  • An 86 per cent drop in the market value of Canada’s most valuable natural asset: the oil sands.
  • Vulnerability of Canada’s comprehensive wealth portfolio to climate change impacts.

These concerns don't emerge when examining Canada's relatively good GDP performance over the same time period, prompting the report's author to call on governments to report comprehensive wealth measures alongside GDP.

Report details

Measurement, Assessment, and Modelling
Measuring Wealth to Promote Sustainable Development
Focus area
Act Together
IISD, 2018