Just in time for the self-congratulatory rhetoric of the provincial budget, Statistics Canada released the results of the Canada Income Survey (CIS) for 2018. The latest personal income numbers show that (what else is new?) Nova Scotia remained at the bottom in terms of both poverty rates and median income levels. Only the new figures on child poverty will require any rewrite of the dreary message track of the past couple of years.

On that score, when the CIS came out last February it infamously revealed Nova Scotia as the only province in the country with a jump in child poverty in 2017. The rate went from 14.0 to 17.1 while the national rate fell from 11.0 to 9.0 percent, the latter an achievement that had the federal Liberals crowing about the positive impact of their Canada Child Benefit (CCB).

The McNeil government, caught out by rising poverty rates when every other province was seeing significant reductions, took issue with the numbers. They may have had a point. As the table below shows, the 2018 rate of 12.1 percent is more consistent with the drop in the national rate since the CCB was introduced in 2016.

Children in low income (Market Basket Measure)  

2016 2017 2018
Nova Scotia 14.0% 17.1% 12.1%
Canada 11.0% 9.0% 8.2%

Table: 11-10-0135-01

As discussed here and here Stats Canada makes no claims to infallibility for the income and poverty numbers in the CIS, especially at the provincial level.

Because of sample size, Statistics Canada rates the provincial child poverty numbers as either “acceptable” or “use with caution,” instead of the more reliable “good” “very good” or “excellent.” A more dependable set of income data comes from the T1 Family File (T1FF), compiled from tax returns, but the 2018 edition is not due out until this summer.

Compared with other provinces, Nova Scotia did not come off as badly in the 2017 T1FF stats as it did with the CIS results for that year. Notably, tax data showed the rate of child poverty actually dropped slightly in Nova Scotia in 2017, and the province had only the third highest rate in the country, behind Saskatchewan and Manitoba. But because the T1FF uses different metrics, poverty rates based on its data are even higher than those reported through the Canada Income Survey.

That may explain why, when the more reliable tax-based data came out, the government didn’t bother publicly updating the record. Unlike the much-publicized increase shown in CIS data, Nova Scotia’s 2017 T1FF child poverty rate of 24.4 percent was down slightly from 2016. But for public consumption, 24.4 from the Census Family Low Income Measure After Tax (CFLIM-AT) looks even worse than the politically embarrassing 17.1 percent reported by the CIS for 2017.

Now that the CIS has reported a huge drop in child poverty for 2018 – from 17.1 to 12.1 is almost 30 percent – the government may be very keen to update the record, putting the ignominy of 2017 down to a statistical blip. But hold the applause. According to the CIS, Nova Scotia still has the highest rates of both overall poverty and child poverty, despite the sharp drop in the latter.

Rate of Low Income 2018 (MBM)

Overall 17 and under
Canada 8.7% 8.2%
Nova Scotia 10.3% 12.1%
Newfoundland 9.7% 9.0%
Prince Edward I. 9.1% NA
New Brunswick 7.9% 7.9%
Quebec 7.9% 5.7%
Ontario 9.5% 10.0%
Manitoba 9.3% 11.3%
Saskatchewan 8.8% 8.2%
Alberta 7.3% 6.4%
British Columbia 8.9% 6.9%

Table 11-10-0135-01

The rate of 10.3 percent shown in the table marks the third straight year that Nova Scotia has had the worst overall poverty rate. And the 12.1 percent, while well down from 2017, makes two straight years for Nova Scotia leading the country in child poverty, according to the CIS. And that same survey shows that for the second year in a row, Nova Scotia is the province with the lowest median family income.

Family Incomes

Median is the level of income at which half the population had higher income and half had lower. Expressed in constant dollars, the CIS places Nova Scotia last in 2018 at $52,200 for “economic families and persons not in an economic family”- up from $51,400 and a last-place standing in 2017.

As discussed in a previous post, median family incomes under the McNeil government have stagnated after growing by more than four percent during, what the McNeil government would have people believe, were the dark days of the NDP. The slight increase in 2018, while not enough to move Nova Scotia up the provincial rankings, represented the first real increase since 2013. But as the next table shows, Nova Scotia continued to lag far behind every provinces not directly affected by the drop in oil prices.


Median Family Income, 2018 dollars

2013 2018 Change
Canada 57,000 61,400 6.41%
Nova Scotia 51,200 52,200 1.95%
Newfoundland 58,100 57,700 -0.69%
Prince Edward I. 53,100 57,100 7.53%
New Brunswick 51,000 54,900 7.65%
Quebec 51,100 53,200 4.11%
Ontario 59,000 66,200 12.20%
Manitoba 58,100 60,400 3.96%
Saskatchewan 61,800 61,900 0.02%
Alberta 75,400 72,700 -3.58%
British Columbia 58,500 62,000    5.98%

Table: 11-10-0190-01

When the three oil producing provinces are removed from the picture, the lack of improvement in family incomes during the McNeil government’s time in office becomes even more glaring. The increase in median family income of only 1.95 percent over five years trails well behind our Maritime neighbours in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island and is barely half the increase of the next lowest province, Manitoba.

There is talk of an election within the next six months. With its well-known shortcomings on health care, social policy, the environment, affordable housing  and democratic accountability, the McNeil government – buoyed by recent increases in jobs and immigration – may try to run on its economic record. The numbers suggest that could be a very tough sell.