The Pandemic & Canada

COVID-19 Deaths in Canada

Between January 3, and October 27, 2020, Canada has experienced 216,104 confirmed cases, and 9,946 deaths (WHO, 2020). The country experienced a severe spike in both deaths and cases from the end of April to June, and a smaller, but still prevalent spike, again at the beginning of October (see Figure 1).

Figure 1 – WHO Canada COVID-19 Data 2020

In October 2020, Canada is in a second wave of the pandemic. Some provinces, particularly Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario, Manitoba, and Quebec, are experiencing larger confirmed case numbers than those reported at the beginning of the pandemic (Tasker, 2020). Data indicates that younger, healthier people, who are more likely to recover from the virus without serious medical intervention, are the ones predominantly driving the COVID-19 spike during this second wave (Tasker, 2020). This is unsurprising as Canadians continue to get more tired of the restrictions that have completely disrupted their lives for almost a year now.

On October 20, 2020 Statistics Canada released a series of online documents detailing a 6-month update on the socio-economic impacts of COVID-19 (Statistics Canada, 2020). The documents provide an overview of the initial health and socio-economic impacts of the virus, based on information that was collected during the lockdown period between late March and April, and as restrictions were eased in the late spring and summer months of 2020. In this article I will be providing an analyzed version of the data, focusing on the impacts that COVID-19 has had on the quality of life, economic freedom & livelihoods, and diverse populations of Canadians.

Quality of Life

The pandemic has had severe impacts on the quality of life of Canadians, who have reported their lowest levels of life satisfaction since data on the subject first became available in 2003. In 2020, fewer Canadians reported being in very good or excellent mental health — with Canadian youth illustrating the largest declines. The share of Canadians rating their life satisfaction as 8 or above on a 0–10 scale fell from 72% in 2018, to only 40% in June 2020 (see Figure 2).

Figure 2 – Average life satisfaction, by age group, Canada (2018 & June 2020)

As well, differences observed across vulnerable populations groups found that youth and immigrants have experienced the largest declines in life satisfaction since the beginning of the pandemic. Before the pandemic, life satisfaction was generally similar among immigrants and Canadian-born, but since the pandemic, the average life satisfaction has declined more among immigrants from Asia, America, and Europe, than among those born in Canada (see Figure 3).

Figure 3 — Average life satisfaction, by immigration status, Canada (2018 & June 2020)

While declines in quality of life are being experienced across Canada, some regions and populations are being affected more than others. Declines in average life satisfaction have been smaller in Atlantic Canada and in Manitoba/Saskatchewan and larger in British Columbia (see Figure 4).

Figure 4 — Average life satisfaction, by province/region (2018 & June 2020)

Initial estimates indicate that 1/3 of the decline in life satisfaction is Canada is related to the mass unemployment that has been occurring due to the pandemic. Since COVID-19, significant declines in mental health is observed among all employment groups compared to pre-COVID levels.

Economic Impacts

While Canada’s output was reported to be recovering as businesses began to adapt and reopen, many customer-facing services continued to face major logistical problems and adaptation costs. For instance, the accommodation and food services sectors have been heavily impacted, with output in June at 55% of its pre-pandemic level (Statistics Canada, 2020).

National Employment & Unemployment

From February to April 2020, 5.5. million Canadian workers were impacted by the economic shutdown caused by COVID-19. By August 2020, the number of impacted workers had fallen to 1.8 million. The unemployment rate went from 5.6% in February to 13.7% in May, and down to 10.2% in August. Alternatively, the employment rate went from 61.8% in February, 52.1% in April, and back up to 58.0% in August. Youth, less educated workers, women, recent immigrants, and temporary workers are found to have been hit harder than most.

While employment is seen to be recovering, with several heavily impacted industries (e.g. construction, manufacturing) having rebounded to 90% of pre-COVID-19 levels as businesses began reopening — significant losses continue to exist in other sectors. For instance, employment in the accommodation and food services sectors remain at over 20% below February 2020 levels. Alternatively, the retail sector was found to rebound quickly from storefront closures, as companies seemed to have fewer problems adapting, developing or enhancing their online platforms and presences. See Figure 5 for a breakdown of employment losses from February to August 2020 by sector.

Figure 5 — Net employment losses (February-August 2020)

Unfortunately, with the recent spike in cases, a number of regions have had to revert to their previous safety guidelines — disallowing people to sit inside of cafes, restaurants, etc., — and with Canada’s cold winter months approaching, patios will be less populated. Even those that choose to adapt by using heaters. This will certainly impact this data; and the extent of this impact will depend on the length of the current closures and businesses abilities to continue to adapt.

Business Closures

Business closures more than doubled to 88,000 in April 2020, led by closures in construction, retail trade, and accommodation and food services. 62,000 business closures were then observed in May, 29% less than in April, but still 59% higher than closure levels pre-COVID-19 observed in February of 2020. In total, there were 100,000 less active businesses in May 2020 than there had been a year before in May 2019.

Impacts on Diverse Populations

Immigrants & Visible Minorities

At present, there are no requirements to collect race-based data in Canada related to COVID-19, however, Statistics Canada found in The Economic and Social Impacts of COVID-19: A Six-Month Update, that the number of concerns relating to differential impacts of COVID-19 have prompted calls for the collection of race-based health data in Canada. In Ontario, census data was used to compare the distribution of positive cases in neighbourhoods with higher visible minority populations vs. those with lower populations. The findings from this show that COVID-19 cases were 3x higher, hospitalizations rates were 4x higher, and deaths were 2x as high among individuals living in more diverse neighbourhoods, compared to those in less diverse neighbourhoods. As well, New Canadians are found to be disproportionately represented in sectors with higher risk of exposure to infection — front-line/essential workers. This includes long-term care, where the majority of deaths in Canada have occurred.

With the decline in immigration flows due to the pandemic, filling frontline/essential services roles could be a challenge. Only 34,260 immigrants entered Canada in the 2nd quarter of 2020, in comparison to 94,280 in the 2nd quarter of 2019. However, accelerated digitalization after the pandemic may create more opportunities for skilled immigrants and visible minorities. Data shows that about 50% of recent adult immigrants had a minimum of a bachelor’s degree, compared to 28% among the adult Canadian-born population. As well, among those with a university degree, 37% of adult immigrants were educated in a STEM field, compared to 18% of Canadian-born individuals (Statistics Canada, 2020).

Indigenous Peoples

Crowdsourced data indicates that there has been uneven impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on First Nations, Metis, and Inuit peoples. Many Indigenous people live in rural and remote communities, where access to medical care can be difficult. 73% of Inuit live in Inuit Nunangat, where the majority of communities are accessible solely by air. In 2017, 82% of Inuit in Inuit Nunangat reported they did not have a family doctor.

Pre-existing health conditions in Indigenous populations increase risk of COVID-19 complications, and there are relatively high levels of pre-existing health conditions in these populations (see Figure 6).

Figure 6 — Pre-Existing Health Conditions for First Nations, Metis, and Inuit populations

Indigenous people have reported worsening mental health since the beginning of the pandemic, including increases in anxiety and stress (see Figure 7). Relatively high percentages of Indigenous participants reported worsening mental health, with Indigenous women being particularly impacted. 46% of Indigenous women reported that their days are quite a bit or extremely stressful, while 48% reported symptoms more consistent with moderate or severe generalized anxiety disorder.

Figure 7 — Mental Health Impacts on Indigenous & Non-Indigenous populations

Crowdsourced data also indicates that Indigenous populations have been more heavily impacted by the economic crisis that has arisen from the pandemic. While job losses have been similar among both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians, financial impacts are being deeper felt by Indigenous peoples. Over 1/3 (36%) of Indigenous participants reported that the pandemic has had an impact on their ability to meet financial obligations or essential needs, 37% of Indigenous participants experienced job loss or reduced work hours, and among those who experienced job loss or a reduction in work hours, 65% reported a strong or moderate financial impact.

The economic impacts of COVID-19 are likely to have a larger impact on Indigenous people because of greater pre-existing vulnerabilities. Families with few financial assets face significant income vulnerability. Even in 2016, 47% of families headed by an Indigenous person (First Nations living off reserve, Inuit, Metis) were unlikely to have enough liquid assets and other private sources of income to sustain themselves for a period greater than 2 months without employment income. Economic recovery may come more slowly for Indigenous populations, as employment increases have stalled for the off-reserve population, and Indigenous youth may be at risk of leaving school without sufficient supports in place. More than half of Indigenous participants reported being very or extremely concerned about the school year and the academic success of their children due to the pandemic.

Parents & Children

Since the pandemic outbreak in early 2020, many parents have reported being very or extremely concerned about their children and their families — particularly their ability to balance childcare, school, and work. Concerns about this balance are highest among those with school aged children between the ages of 4 and 11. According to the data, participants were very or extremely concerned about their children’s:

  • Opportunities to socialize with friends (71%)
  • Amount of screen time (64%)
  • Loneliness or isolation (54%)
  • General mental health (46%)
  • School year & academic success (40%)

Few parents were using childcare during the pandemic, stating a variety of reasons for this. When asked why they will not or did not send their children to childcare, 49% stated concern about their child’s health, 13% had help from friends or family members, 6% stated their inability to afford childcare, and 32% stated they no longer needed childcare services.

Throughout the pandemic, parents have reported that their children were participating in screen time daily or almost every day (see Figure 8). Over half of parents (54%) reported that they were very or extremely concerned about the amount of screen time that their children were engaging in.

Figure 8 — Screen time for children during the pandemic

Parental education has been shown to be positively connected to their children’s academic performance, which has only been highlighted during COVID-19. 77% of parents reported that their children engaged in academic activities 3x per week or more. Parents with a high school education or less were almost 3x more likely than parents with a Bachelor’s degree to report their children never engaged in academic activities.

As some schools move to online learning options, differential access to the internet and devices may further disadvantage children in low-income households. While only 1.2% of Canadian households with children don’t have access to internet at home, the rate is higher among low-income households(4.2%) compared with high income households (0.2%). Low income households are also likely to have less than 1 device per household member (63%).

Post-Secondary Students & Graduates

Early on in the pandemic, 26% of post-secondary students responding to a crowdsource questionnaire (100,000 participants) indicated that their education was being disrupted, with the impacts varying per discipline. Students in programs relating to services (56%), trades (53%), or health care (41%) were hit the hardest (see Figure 9).

Figure 9 — Courses postponed or cancelled by field of study

Almost all participants (92%) reported that they had some or all of their courses moved online. For many students, academic work was delated, postponed, or cancelled. 35% of participants reported they had a planned work placement delayed or cancelled, 10% reported being unable to complete some or all courses, and 11% reported not being able to complete their credits as planned.

Post-Secondary students are also very concerned about their financial situation. The post-secondary crowdsource survey respondents stated they were very or extremely concerned about their finances even after the announcement and distribution of the Canadian Emergency Student Benefit (CESB). 73% reported using up their savings before CESB, and 61% reported after, 56% were able to pay their tuition for their next term — 56% before CESB and 48% after, and 73% reported having to take out more student debt before CESB, and 61% after.

The financial impacts of COVID-19 could effect students’ ability to pay back their debt. Based on results from the recent National Graduates Survey, for every $1,000 of income earned, 0.2% of student debt was repaid. Factors associated with slower debt repayment included a larger debt at graduation, being a single parent, reporting a disability, and being a landed immigrant or a member of visible minority group.

Impacts of the pandemic on youth employment will be felt for years to come. Youth employment was severely impacted by the shutdowns, with the percentage of 15–24 year olds working declining from 58% in February to just over 38% in April. Full-time work among young Canadians has decreased since April and is down by almost 1/4 from pre-pandemic levels.

All of these factors have contributed to lower mental health among youth — they have experienced the greatest declines since the beginning of the pandemic. Prior to COVID-19, youth were at risk for poor mental health. Since COVID-19, those between the ages of 15 and 24 reported the greatest declines in mental health — from 60% (2019) to 40% (July 2020) of those reporting excellent or very good mental health.

Updates on the impacts of COVID-19 on Canada’s progress on the SDGs will be coming soon to The Sustainable Switch.


Statistics Canada. (2020). The Economic and Social Impacts of COVID-19: A Six-Month Update. Retrieved from

Tasker, J. (2020). Trudeau says pandemic ‘sucks’ as COVID-19 compliance slips and cases spike. Retrieved from

World Health Organization. (2020). WHO Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Dashboard. Retrieved from

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