Nowhere to Go But Up
A look at the worst performing places in Canada.
High unemployment, meagre incomes, high crime rates, limited public transit and lousy weather; New Glasgow, N.S. has its work cut out for it.
For the second year in a row the town has ranked worst overall, rounding out the 190th spot on the MoneySense Canada’s Best Places to Live 2012 list.
New Glasgow Mayor Barrie MacMillan said he’s been “absolutely devastated” by the rankings in the past. But there’s no time to dwell.
The town is the second phase of a downtown revitalization and commercialization project—which MacMillan says will help create jobs. The unemployment rate in New Glasgow is just under 14%, nearly double the national average. Improvements to the regional hospital and the construction of a $36-million recreation complex are also underway.
It’s worth mentioning that New Glasgow did collect a couple of major awards this past year. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business named it the top entrepreneurial city in Nova Scotia and the 5th best in Atlantic Canada for 2011. The lush town also won a national Communities in Bloom award for its parks, landscaping and conservation efforts.
“We think that our town continues to be a leader in environmental action,” MacMillan said.
This year, MoneySense took a new approach to tackle the lowest ranking cities our list. We’ve narrowed our gaze to focus on the worst performers in each of the most important categories in addition to listing the lowest overall scoring cities.
The goal here is not to chastise these cities and the no-doubt spirited people who live there but to highlight areas where elected officials and residents can work together for positive change. Of course there’s not much anyone can do about the weather but there’s a lot we can do to make our cities safer, more accessible and fun.
In many cases, local authorities are already aware of their weaknesses and some are already working on possible fixes, MoneySense has learned.
Bay Roberts, N.L., a city plagued by staggeringly high unemployment, for instance is launching an online jobs board to help match the right people with the right employers. Brooks, Alta. is working hard to attract and retain doctors and Leamington, Ont. has recently expanded its lunch hour bus routes in an effort to make transit more viable.
Other cities continue to wrestle with the classic chicken-and-the-egg dilemma. The town of Hawkesbury, Ont. for example doesn’t have some of the basic infrastructure needed to attract young families—like dedicated residential neighbourhoods or a movie theatre. But without adequate demand, the ageing city of 11,000 (with four retirement homes) will have a hard time justifying building such amenities.
In the meantime, residents at the bottom of the list are fighting back in their own way. After last year’s Best Places was published, one New Glasgow business purchased a roadside billboard to send this message to Canadians: “New Glasgow: A great place to live.”
The worst performers in the most heavily-weighted categories are:
Fewest Residents Walking/Biking to Work: Vaughan, Ont.
Less than 2% of Vaughan’s more than 300,000 residents walk or bike to work. That’s because many of the city’s post-secondary students and professionals work outside city boundaries, many of them making the daily commute to Toronto. In fact, it’s not uncommon for residents to take multiple transit systems just to reach the “Big Smoke” while others spend hours each week sitting in gridlock on Toronto’s 400-series highways. It’s no surprise then that nearly 20% of all cars on Vaughan roads are 2009 model years or newer.
Least Affordable Real Estate: Vancouver, B.C.
The average selling price on a Vancouver home touched $857,400 last year, buoyed by foreign investors. As you might expect, price tag increases are outpacing salaries. The average household income in Vancouver pales in comparison to other Western cities at $83,487. As a result, it takes more than 10 years for the average resident to be able to afford a home. Things have gotten so bad that Demographia recently named Vancouver the least-affordable market after Hong Kong among large English-speaking urban centres. One can understand why the market is so hot. Vancouver is the second warmest place in the country with just 35 days a year below 0 degrees C.
Lowest Household Income: Hawkesbury, Ont.
Household incomes in this town are the lowest in the country averaging just $50,783. That’s less than a third of what residents in Wood Buffalo, Alta. (the richest Canadians) are averaging at $186,979. But according to the town’s Chief Administrative Officer Normand Beaulieu, the numbers are skewed lower by Hawkesbury’s high concentration of seniors living on modest pensions. Salaries aren’t keeping residents from treating themselves however. The city makes the top 50 in the new car category.
Highest Total Crime: North Battleford, Sask.
North Battleford has seen more than its fair share of violent and petty crime. The area is plagued by a long history of socio-economic disadvantages including low-paying jobs and too few services. Only in the last few months, says RCMP Sgt. Neil Tremblay, has the wider Saskatchewan economic boom started to trickle down to North Battleford in the form of better jobs and resources. That, combined with a new mentorship program for repeat offenders, has already started to have a positive effect on overall crime rates, he said.
Fewest Doctors: Brooks, Alta.
With less than one M.D. per 1,000 residents, Brooks has a doctor shortage and knows it. Fortunately, the city has partnered with nearby Newell County on a physician recruitment and retention program. There’s evidence it’s working already. Online classifieds show a number of local doctors are accepting new patients. On the plus side, average household incomes in Brooks are high at $111,727 and unemployment is low at just 3.7%.
Highest Unemployment: Bay Roberts, N.L.
Bay Roberts is a tough place to be out of work. The jobless rate in this town is hovering around 17%, more than twice the national average. But the numbers don’t tell the whole story, according to Ron Delaney, director of economic development and tourism for Bay Roberts. That’s because they include the wider Bay Roberts area spanning five towns where jobs are scarcer. Bay Roberts proper is actually suffering a worker shortage in the service trades, he said.
Worst Weather: St. John’s, N.L.
Residents of St. John’s are a resilient bunch. The city sees more cold, rainy days than any other in the country, according to our data. How bad is it? The city sees 215 wet days per year for a total precipitation of 1,513.7 mm. Residents of Oakville, Ont. on the other hand enjoy the best weather in Canada recording just 118 wet days per year. It gets worse for St. John’s. The mercury dips below the freezing mark 174 days a year in St. John’s. Those who brave the elements are rewarded however. St. John’s ranks 37th in the nation for average household income at $99,391.
Fewest Jobs in the Arts: Kenora, Ont.
Kenora consistently places last in our culture rankings but that doesn’t mean the city isn’t a vibrant place to live. It does mean that however that fewer people work in the culture, arts and sports industries than anywhere else in the country. Kenora has made culture a priority in recent years and is currently in the second phase a plan to promote local arts, heritage and communications media. Culture aside, Kenora gets high marks for weather (it’s the second driest place in the country) and for percentage of the population that walks or rides to work (10%).
Fewest Residents Taking Transit to Work: Leamington, Ont.
Waiting for a bus in this town can be frustrating. Most routes offer pickups only once every sixty minutes and only during business hours Monday-to-Saturday. It’s no surprise then that nearly 10% of Leamington’s working population walks or rides a bike to work, good enough for a 47th ranking in this category.
Worst Pollution: Thetford Mines, Que. and Saint-Georges, Que.
This year, two Quebec towns share the dubious distinction of being the most polluted city on MoneySense’s annual list. Thetford Mines is located in the heart of Quebec’s asbestos-producing region while Saint-George is a factory town. The air quality in both towns is no doubt affected by local industry but also by blow over from bordering East Coast U.S. states. Air quality aside, houses are extremely affordable in Thetford Mines and Saint-Georges, and both are relatively safe towns.
Learn more about these communities as they rise to their challenges in our 11 Worst Places to Live gallery.
For a full explanation on how we crunched the numbers, check out our methodology.