IT TOOK A CENTURY, but energy-rich Alberta has finally replaced Ontario as the wealthiest province in Canada. While economic indicators suggest this to be true, social and environmental indicators tell a different story. They prove the old adage may be right: You can’t buy happiness.

Alberta’s Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) was first developed by the Pembina Institute in 2001. At that time, it was as a pioneering research effort to develop a new system for measuring Alberta’s well-being.

In 2005, on the occasion of the province’s centennial anniversary, the Pembina Institute updated the 51 indicators that comprise Alberta’s GPI. The results were revealing. The GPI framework demonstrates that while Alberta’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has increased substantially, this growth has occurred at the cost of environmental, social and even economic well-being.

This finding fits a long-term trend in the province. Between 1961 and 2003, Alberta’s GDP increased by 483 per cent. During the same period, the GPI declined by 19 per cent.

Over this 42-year period, Alberta has experienced increases in the gap between the rich and the poor, household debt, forest fragmentation, greenhouse gas emissions, obesity and problem gambling. Thus, while a rising GDP suggests a healthy exchange of money for goods and services, it doesn’t guarantee social justice or environmental health. Unless these factors are integrated into the way we measure our progress, we will never achieve sustainability.

Amy sheds light on ecological fiscal reform. Send your questions her way: www.fiscallygreen.ca/ask_amy.html

Amy Taylor is an economist with the Pembina Institute where she works on projects related to fiscal policy.

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