Research Briefs, Science & Technology

Statistics Canada researcher shares insights into Canadian heat wave

Matthew Quick, a research analyst at Statistics Canada, gave an insightful talk at McGill on Friday, Nov. 3, about the impacts of extreme heat across Canada and the many socio-economic factors that contribute to an individual’s vulnerability to these effects. He presented three of his recent studies, each illuminating a new facet of this complex issue. 

Impacts of extreme heat on non-accidental, cardiovascular, and respiratory mortality 2000 to 2020

The first study presented by Quick has not yet been published, but is currently under review at Health Reports, a journal published by Statistics Canada. It examines the relationship between mortality and extreme heat events—defined as periods of two or more days of unusually high temperatures and humidity, along with minimal cooling during the night. 

Quick explained that the majority of previous studies in Canada focused on single events rather than long-term patterns. His latest paper aims to address this gap in the research by surveying 12 major cities across Canada over two decades.

“Overall, 10 out of the 12 cities have higher mortality risks on extreme heat days compared to non-extreme heat days,” Quick said. “For example, in Montreal, it’s about 9 or 10 per cent higher on extreme heat days.”

Additionally, he found that extreme heat events, such as the 2010 Quebec heat wave, had a greater impact on mortality among individuals aged 65 or older. Quick noted that, while this finding is important to note, it is not surprising. 

“This is supported by lots of physiological research that says that older adults have less ability to dissipate heat, as well as that older adults are more likely to have underlying chronic health conditions,” Quick explained. 

The prevalence of household air conditioning in Canada

The second study, published in Health Reports, looks at one of the most critical tools for ensuring people’s safety during extreme heat events: Indoor air conditioning. While previous surveys have analyzed household use of air conditioning, Quick’s research goes to the individual level, exploring who exactly does and does not have access to this important technology. 

He found that while 61 per cent of Canadians currently have air conditioning, several factors can affect how likely an individual is to have it in their home. 

“The most important factor explaining this or differentiating from the 61 per cent is geography,” Quick said. 

For example, while 85 per cent of Ontarians have air conditioning, only 58 per cent of Quebec residents do. Within these regions, the data also indicates that heat-vulnerable populations, such as the elderly, generally have air conditioning access rates that align with the regional averages. However, several socio-economic factors also stand out. 

“[If you have] less than a high school education, you’re about 10 percentage points less likely to have air conditioning. If you live alone, it’s similar,” Quick said. “And if you do not own a home, i.e. if you rented, you’re at 50 per cent, so one in two renters had air conditioning across Canada.”

Exploring the associations between cooling centre accessibility and marginalization in Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver, Canada

The final study, published in Canadian Geographies, focused on another way to combat the effects of extreme heat: Cooling centres. Cooling centres are publicly available locations such as libraries, community centres, and pools, that provide a variety of services, including water distribution and air-conditioned spaces. 

“These air conditioned spaces allow people to go […] and cool down temporarily, but they also facilitate social interaction and social support,” Quick explained. 

Cooling centres are becoming increasingly critical spaces as extreme heat events become more common, so Quick endeavoured to analyze the accessibility and prevalence of these centres across different neighbourhoods in major Canadian cities. 

“The main takeaway here is this interesting pattern that we see in Montreal, in Toronto, and in Vancouver, where as we increase in residential instability, we increase in the likelihood that you’re going to have a cooling centre within a 15 minute walk of you.” Quick said. “In Montreal and Vancouver, the most deprived areas are much more likely to have access to a cooling centre than the least deprived areas.”

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