I do not get it.

Alberta’s recoverable reserves of oil are, still conservatively, the largest on Earth by far, and are larger than those of Saudi Arabia and Venezuela combined.

Canada is rich in water sources, agriculture, high-tech industry, access to capital markets, and a liberal government and a constitutional system whereas the Saudis have a controversial (repressive) monarchy.

Why are Canadians poorer than the Saudis? Why are Canadians in debt and complaining of cost of living, housing affordability and health care shortages when their land has more gas and oil (and much more) than the Saudis?

Update: after I posted the question above, the responses challenged for a definition of “wealth” that made me perceive Saudis as “richer” and Canadians as “poorer”. My perception was made out of people complaints/feedback from both countries regarding day-to-day concerns such as cost of living, minimum wage, crimes, and drug-addiction problems.

Also, the country’s foreign aid is the image of the country to foreigners. In 2006, it was reported that Saudi Arabia was the biggest per capita donor at US$49 billion whereas the USAID was at US$27 billion.

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    Needs proof that Canadians are poorer than Saudis. What definition of "poorer" are you using, because "poorer" is a very vague word.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Jul 13, 2022 at 11:21
  • Welcome aboard, but maybe you need to adjust your perceptions a bit. Saudi is not better off than Canada by most people's metrics. Comparing only goes so far, it might be more useful to ask a question about specifically Canada. Or specifically Saudi. Re. drug problems, we are fairly tolerant of recreational drug use here, but the opioid crisis is a rather different beast and not all that welcomed. Its roots are in social disaffection by some, the recent arrival of fentanyl-class cheap substitutes for heroin and seeking profits-at-all-costs by a subset of pharmaceutical companies. Commented Jul 13, 2022 at 15:59
  • I'm sorry but the "Update" makes the question even less answerable in the SE format. It gets to multiple issues and posits that the Saudis are complaining less (in private?) about each of those. Those premises are best addressed separately before one even asks "why". Yeah public criticism is likely to be more muted in the more authoritarian SA. You'd have to come up with polls that show Saudis complain less about those things, when they can voice their concerns anonymously. Otherwise the answer can be just "it's just your bubble". Commented Jul 13, 2022 at 16:01
  • "Why do Canadians complain more about cost of living than Saudis?" Perhaps because they can: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Censorship_in_Saudi_Arabia Commented Jul 13, 2022 at 16:41

1 Answer 1


First, the cost to produce oil per barrel is vastly different. Alberta's oil has a pretty high breakeven cost to produce while Saudi's is the cheapest on the planet.

Marginal Production Cost, 2014 (adding a new barrel of production) this is not necessarily the best data set, but it gives you an idea:

  • Canada - $90
  • Saudi - $3

Second, you are incorrect about the richer part. World Bank GDP per capita tables:

  • Canada $52,051
  • Saudi $23,585

Saudi princes may be very rich. But average incomes are near developing-country level.

Canada's biggest suck on standard of living right now is housing costs. Years of ever-increasing house prices makes everyone willing to buy houses at ridiculous prices, highly leveraged, in the expectation that prices will continue upward. This also drives up rents.

For example, visiting a city quite far from Vancouver, Port Alberni, to be precise, I was amused to find that, in a depressed post-industrial/logging/fishing town with many businesses shuttered, rather ugly small houses were selling for $600-700K CAD. I finally found one for $399K but on closer reading it was a freehold in a trailer park. Kid you not.

Last, high oil/resource revenues are not necessarily always a blessing. See Dutch disease.

p.s. and if we add happiness/unhappiness as a metric:

  • Canada is at #14 with 7.103
  • Saudi is #26, with 6.406
  • Thanks. However, the GDP table, you posted, shows that Qatar has higher GDP per capita than Sweden, Australia, Netherlands, Greenland, Finland, Austria and Canada. Then comes Saudi Arabia lower than Canada. But it does not measure debt-to-GDP. Saudis seem more powerful than Qataris. The US has more poverty compared to Qatar yet it stands ahead of Qatar, Iceland, and Denmark on GDP per capita. Is there a better indicator for measuring wealth? Commented Jul 13, 2022 at 10:12
  • It seems that taxes add most of the cost differential between Saudi and Canadian oil "the location and size of Saudi’s oil fields also help keep its production costs down. While it’s not the cheapest in the world, as several nations have production costs around $2 per barrel, it’s still a fraction of the production costs of a country like Canada, which pays $11.56 to produce a barrel of oil." peakoil.com/production/… Commented Jul 13, 2022 at 10:28
  • @IbrahimKhalil - Things are much more complicated than that. To begin with, looking at overall debt would be a mistake, because most of that debt is internal in many countries, so it does not actually change the country's net wealth. Then, you need to consider the net external debt relative to the GDP.
    – Obie 2.0
    Commented Jul 13, 2022 at 11:57
  • 1
    @IbrahimKhalil: Qatar is a small country. Luxembourg has zero oil and nearly twice the GDP per capita of Qatar. Commented Jul 13, 2022 at 12:00
  • As indicated here, for instance, both Canada and Saudi Arabia are net creditors, with Canada's external debt being about 58% of its GDP and Saudi Arabia's being about 73% of its GDP. However, debt cannot directly be compared to GDP, since one is a cumulative amount and the other is per year, so you actually need to calculate the interest paid on that debt each year and subtract that from the GDP.
    – Obie 2.0
    Commented Jul 13, 2022 at 12:00

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