Inflation Central

Statistics Canada reported today that consumer prices edged up by 0.1% in February on a seasonally-adjusted basis, bringing the annual inflation rate to 2.6% and the core inflation rate to 2.3%. These rates are within the Bank of Canada’s target range and should allow it to keep interest rates low, which would be appropriate given Canada’s stalled labour market.

The Labour Force Survey indicates that the average hourly wage rose at an annual rate of 2.0% to February. Working Canadians are not keeping up with the cost of living.

While the national totals changed little in February, there was a notable regional story. Among the provinces, Quebec and Ontario posted the highest inflation rates: 3.2% and 2.9% respectively. Both had wage growth of only 1.7%, the lowest rate of any province except Manitoba.

In other words, central Canadians are paying for the highest price increases out of the lowest wage increases. Over the past year, gasoline prices have risen faster in Quebec (+13.4%) and Ontario (+9.5%) than the national average (+8.9%). Ontarians were also hit by an 8.9% increase in provincial electricity rates.

Erin Weir is an economist with the United Steelworkers union and a CCPA research associate.

UPDATE (March 24): Quoted in today’s Toronto Star (page B8)

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