JUser: :_load: Unable to load user with ID: 7305
Carissa and Patrick Douglas with 12 of their 14 children (and one on the way). Photo courtesy the Douglas family

Taking faith to the bank

  • September 8, 2023

Canada is emerging from, to play with the words of the Bard, the “summer of our economic discontent,” and the prospect of a “glorious winter” orchestrated by the sun of “sunny ways” Trudeau and his newly formed Cabinet seems remote.

It is not just the national grocery bill that has people rattled. Every day seems to deliver another set of discouraging data points.

On Sept. 1, Statistics Canada reported the economy contracted at an annualized rate of 0.2 per cent in the second quarter of 2023. The same day, Leger released a poll that showed 47 per cent of Canadians were living pay cheque to pay cheque, that percentage rising to 57 per cent among 35- to 54-year-olds. 

According to an Aug. 23 RBC report, Canadians due to renew their mortgages could see their monthly payments jump 25 per cent as early 2024. Making matters worse, Canadian house prices are the highest in the G7, 44 per cent overvalued relative to income.

The numbers are one thing, but it is the talk around the virtual water coolers that gives a better sense of the precarious tipping point many Canadians find themselves approaching. From a Catholic perspective, paradoxically, the looming financial uncertainty can be seen as a golden opportunity for enriching faith.

Patrick Douglas, co-director of the Office of Formation for Discipleship at the Archdiocese of Toronto, says the difficulties of the day are an extraordinary opportunity for Catholic Canadians.

“Our Holy Father is asking us to help people on the margins. Of course, there are so many margins to look at, but there are areas right here in Canada, what with the financial crisis and struggling families, where we can help,” he says.

Douglas in no way minimizes the hardships many face. But he says even the struggles of many young people to buy first homes can become a means to help them develop virtues of prudence and courage. “We need to empower young people not to be afraid when it comes to planning for the future,” he told The Catholic Register.

Still, social media videos abound of Canadians, many in tears, expressing frustration and despair at the cost of living are being shared across multiple social media platforms.

In one, a single mom recounts that despite her $34-an-hour job, after paying the mortgage, car loan and a few “little bills,” she hardly has money for gas.

She says she restricts herself to a diet of bread and peanut butter in the days when her daughter is with the father. Another woman tells how she had come to Canada 20 years ago with high hopes but after several years of financial hardship is returning to her home country. “I am struggling in every area and everything has gone downhill,” she says.

While circumstances obviously vary, all Canadians are coming to terms with a markedly different financial landscape then they once knew.

Trevor Boucher is a teacher who lives with his wife, an audiologist, and their two children in Montreal.

“I think the definition of middle-class has changed over the course of the last 10 years,” says Boucher. “Call it the dream of the white picket fence, if you want, but we all saw our parents live a certain way and we had expectations that, OK, this type of employment can lead to a certain quality of life.”

Boucher counts himself fortunate to have been able to enter the housing market in 2012, as he now thinks a house is “a luxury that very few people can afford.”

He recounts a recent conversation he had: “I had a guy come evaluate my house, a younger guy, and he goes, ‘You’re lucky, sir. You got in at the right time. I don’t know if I’ll ever have a house.’”

Pointing to the example of his two sisters, who “were always more financially responsible than I was,” Boucher says that even though “they saved more than I did, they can’t get into the house market now.”

Jose Maria Guzman Fernandez came to Canada from Bolivia 10 years ago. When he arrived, the minimum wage in Canada was around $10 an hour and Guzman Fernandez was working in a car wash. Guzman Fernandez says he knew “so many immigrant families that were living very well, even with manual jobs. They could go on vacation, have a nice car, you know, have a decent standard of living.” 

“That has completely changed now,” says Guzman Fernandez. 

Guzman Fernandez and his wife were able to purchase a home long before the current housing crisis, qualifying for financing while Guzman Fernandez was still working at the car wash. This past spring when Guzman Fernandez renewed their mortgage, their interest rate almost doubled.

“The worst thing is, the government keeps saying, ‘It’s going to be good; the rates are going to go down, everything is going to be OK’ and you are waiting to take a decision and then the government gives you a surprise with an increase instead of a decrease,” says Guzman Fernandez.

Guzman Fernandez says that he isn’t quite sure how they would be coping if they didn’t have his current salary as a product manager to rely on. His wife Daniela gave up her job as a veterinarian technician some years ago to homeschool their three young children.

Even with a decent wage, “everything is delicate now,” says Guzman Fernandez. “Little things can create an imbalance. It is tough with a family of five.”

In one particular way, Patrick Douglas and his wife, Carissa, hardly represent a typical Canadian family. Carissa, an author and illustrator of children’s books, is expecting their 15th child later this year. She also homeschools their children.

She laughs as she says: “When people find out how many children we have, they ask, ‘How do you afford that?’”

The couple were financially cautious at the beginning of their marriage because they knew they had big plans.

“When we first started out, we were very careful because we knew we wanted a large family and that wouldn’t be possible unless we were pretty drastic with our budget. We developed the mentality of pursuing ‘need versus want’ very early on, and we used any avenue of savings we could,” Carissa says.

She adds, “now that the financial situation is changing, we find we are going back to those early practices.”

Carissa and Patrick are on a relatively solid financial footing but see many young people struggling.

“One of the saddest situations are the young families we know who have been saving and saving and now just can’t afford to buy a home,” Carissa says.

“We know one couple who had sold their home as the house prices were starting to increase during COVID. They moved in with her parents and the market just jumped up and they were stuck living in one room of the basement with four kids. It was so sad, they could not find a place to live, and it was a major hardship.”

Patrick sees the cost-of-living crisis falling particularly hard on married couples wanting to start a family.

“As a Church, we want to encourage them to start to grow their families, but we’ve been finding that a lot of couples haven’t been able to do that because of the climate right now,” he says.

Even there, though, Patrick encourages regard for the situation as an opening to develop community and charity.

“The more we can support each other together as a community the better. For those in need, to be able to accept the charity of others and for those that have, to offer what they can,” he says.

The couple believe the economic squeeze has caused them to recognize the materialism that had begun to creep into their lives because they had started to “get a little more comfortable.”

Carissa notes it has been in “our openness to life, our openness to say ‘yes,’ even though we don’t know what our finances are going to be in the future, has been the point where God has met us with His provision. Our trust in Him, as the one who can provide, has grown. The bigger our ‘yes,’ the bigger His provision.”

Please support The Catholic Register

Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.