Methodology

How we crunched the numbers to determine Canada’s Best Places to Live.

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From the April 2014 issue of the magazine.

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MoneySense’s Best Places to Live 2014 is our most comprehensive data-driven snapshot of Canadian cities yet. This year, we expanded our list by one, to 201 cities.

While we can’t gauge many of the elements that people enjoy in their cities, the nearness of family, the friendliness of neighbours or even great sunsets, we have measured what can be measured and compared what can be compared from towns and cities across our provinces and territories. To identify the Best Places to Live in Canada we rank each community across 34 separate categories to get a detailed picture of what life is like in each community.

To come up with the ranking, we gathered information on Census Metropolitan Areas (CMA), Census Agglomeration (CA) and Census Subdivisions, (CSD) as defined by Statistics Canada. All of the demographic data was supplied by Environics Analytics. Additional data sources are noted below.

The pie chart below illustrates how we weigh each category group for the main list:

BestPlaces2013weighting

We ranked each city against its peers and overall. A small city is defined by a population below 100,000, a mid-size city has population of between 100,000 and 400,000 and a large city has a minimum population of 400,000.

This year we added one city, Port Moody, B.C. to our ranking to bring the total number of communities we rank to 201. The only other change of note affected the new cars category. We view new car purchases as an indicator of wealth and consumer confidence. This year we added in the percentage of new luxury cars purchased to get an even better sense of what is happening within each community. To accommodate this change the percentage of new cars, which was worth two points last year, is now worth only one; the percentage of luxury cars accounts for the other point to keep the weighting of this category the same as it was in previous years.

In addition to our highly popular Best Places to Live, we continue to showcase the Best Places to Raise Kids and Best Places to Retire lists, and the Best Places for New Immigrants. A full breakdown of our methodology is below.

And while MoneySense strongly believes air quality is an important variable in determining the quality of life within a city, we unfortunately had to drop this category from our ranking system because we were unable to find reliable and current data for each city.

The calculations

A total of 103 points was up for grabs. Each category (below) was allotted a number of points depending on the importance of the category. For example, employment statistics are worth 10 points while sales taxes are worth 1 point. Some categories are further broken into subcategories. For example, the crime category is determined by statistics in the subcategories of violent crime, crime severity and total crime.

The top city in each category received the maximum number of points, and the rest of the cities received descending incremental points based on their ranking.

For example, in the area of unemployment, Cold Lake, Alta. had the lowest unemployment rate in the country (3.4%). It was ranked No. 1 in that category and received 10 points. The second-best city in the unemployment category, Boucherville, Que., received 9.95 points. The next city was Lévis, Que. with 9.90 points and so on, down to the 201th city (Campbellton on the New Brunswick/Quebec border. with an unemployment rate of 17.4%), which received no points.

Calculations for some other categories follow a slightly different methodology. For example, in the category of population growth over the past five years, an annual rate of 8.2% was considered ideal. Anything below or above that rate loses points and cities with a population loss receive zero. The same is true for the subcategory of precipitation, which makes up part of the weather category. (The ideal number is 700 mm a year, with anything above or below that level losing points accordingly.) As well, 5 points were awarded on the percentage of people employed in arts, culture, recreation and sports.

Here’s an example of how the scoring system works:

Red Deer, Alta..
Travel to Work by Bicycle % Travel to Work by Walking % Travel to Work by Public Transit % Labour Force Unemployment Rate Score
Points earned 1.86 0.95 3.13 7.25
Avail. points 3.00 3.00 5.00 10.00
Annual Rain Fall (mm) Number of Days with Rain % of Days with Precipitation (Rain or Snow) Number of Days w/ min. Temp Above 0C Score Number of Days w/ min. Temp Above 20C Score
0.69 2.61 0.88 0.09 0.26
2.00 3.00 1.00 3.00 1.00
Average Value of Primary Real Estate Score Average Time to Buy a Home Rank Average Household Income Score Average Household Discretionary Income Score Average Household Net Worth Score
3.24 4.80 3.90 4.23 3.38
6.00 6.00 5.00 5.00 5.00
% change in Population ’08 to ’13 Score 5 year Change in Crime Rate per 100,000 Score Crime per 100,000 Score Violent Crime Severity Index Score Crime Severity Index Score
3.56 0.01 0.18 0.13 0.10
8.00 1.00 2.00 2.00 2.00
Total Sales Taxes Score Income Tax on $50,000 Score Property Tax (%) Score Average Property tax as a % of Household Income Score % New Cars 2011 Model Year and Up/% Luxury Cars Score
1.00 1.67 0.89 0.42 0.50
1.00 3.00 2.00 1.00 1.00/1.00
Doctors per ’000 Score % Employed in Health Care Sector Score Number of  Doctors of Medicine Offices per ’000 Score % Employed in  Art, Culture, Recreation, Sport score Hospital
2.45 3.46 0.92 3.00 2
5.00 4.00 1.00 5.00 2
College University Movie Theatre Prox. to Major Airport FINAL
1 0 0.5 1.5 61.12
1 1 0.5 1.5 103.00

While a perfect score in all categories would give a city 103 points, the top city this year, St. Albert, only garnered 71.51 points followed closely by Calgary at 71.41 points. Our lowest ranking city, Port Alberni, B.C.., scored 36.54 points.

Categories and points

WALK/BIKE TO WORK: 6 points—This represents the percentage of people who walked or took their bike to work. Source: Environics Analytics

TRANSIT: 5 points—Based on the percentage of the workforce utilizing public transit. Source: Environics Analytics

WEATHER: 10 points—(2 points for the ideal amount of precipitation, 3 points for the number of days with rain, 1 point for days with precipitation of any kind, three points for days above 0°C,  and 1 point fro days above 20°C). Ideal volume of precipitation is considered to be 700 mm per year. Source: Environment Canada

POPULATION GROWTH: 8 points—Results are based on the average Canadian population growth rate across all cities on our list over the past five years (6.2%), plus 2 percentage points. Higher growth rates create problems as cities struggle to provide services to growing populations. Lower growth rates means less opportunities. Cities with negative growth received 0 points. Source: Environics Analytics and 2011 Statistics Canada figures

UNEMPLOYMENT: 10 points—2012 estimates calculated by Environics Analytics

HOUSING: 12 points— (6 for average house prices and 6 for time to buy a house) House price data provided by Environics Analytics. Housing data is based on the census estimate for every community at the end of 2011, correcting for changes within the community including age, occupations, and information from local real estate boards. Time to buy was derived from average home price divided by average estimated household income.

HOUSEHOLD INCOME: 5 points—Source: Environics Analytics.

DISCRETIONARY INCOME: 5 points—Source: Environics Analytics.

NEW CARS: 1 point—New cars on the road as of July 2013. New cars were deemed to be vehicles with model years 2011-2013. Ranking of new cars is based on the percent total vehicles. Source: IHS Automotive, Driven by Polk.

NEW LUXURY CARS: 1 point—Percentage of new luxury cars on the road as of July 2013. New cars were deemed to be vehicles with model years 2011-2013. Ranking of new cars is based on the percent total vehicles. Source: IHS Automotive, Driven by Polk.

INCOME TAXES: 3 points—Cities ranked (lower is better) according to the rate of combined federal and provincial (or territorial) income tax paid on a single person income of $50,000. Source: www.taxtips.ca.

SALES TAXES: 1 point—Cities ranked (lower is better) according to the rate of provincial or territorial sales tax.

PROPERTY TAX RATE: 2 points—Cities with a lower property tax rate were awarded the highest marks. Source: Environics Analytics.

PROPERTY TAX PAID AS A % OF INCOME: 1 point—To determine how much of a burden the property tax was to the average homeowner we determine the how much of the average household income goes towards paying property tax.

CRIME: 7 points—Violent crime rates (2 points), total crime rates per 100,000 people (2 points), the five-year change in the crime rate (1 point) and crime severity rates (2 point) for 2010. (Lower is better in all three cases.) Source: Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics.

DOCTORS: 5 points—Number of general practice and specialist physicians per community (5 points) and converted to doctors per 1,000 people. Source: Canadian Medical Association

HEALTH PROFESSIONALS: 4 points—Percentage of people in each city who are employed in health occupations. Source: Environics Analytics.

NUMBER OF DOCTORS OFFICES PER ’000: 1 point—The number of medical offices in a community divided by the population. Source: Environics Analytics.

AMENITIES: 6 points—Two points for a hospital, 1 point each for university and college. Cities in a CMA area received credit if a particular institution was located anywhere in the CMA. Half a point was given to cities with a movie theatre. Cities could also earn up to 1.5 points for being within close proximity to an airport serviced by one of Canada’s national carriers: Air Canada or WestJet. Cities within 50 km of an airport received 1.5 points, communities within 100 km received 1 point and cities within 200km received half a point.

CULTURE: 5 points—A city could receive up to 5 points based on the percentage of people employed in arts, culture, recreation and sports. Source: Environics Analytics.

Best Places to Raise Kids

This calculation included the following additional categories;

  • child care spaces
  • population 14 and under
  • percentage of students
  • the number of daycare spaces for 1,000
  • the number of regulated day care space for children aged 0 to 5
  • average day care cost
  • % of families with kids

Note some of the statistics are available only province to province instead of city by city. Sources: Environics Analytics and the Early childhood education and care in Canada 2012 (Revised 2013) space statistics published by the Childcare Resource and Research Unit www.childcarecanada.org.

The pie chart below illustrates how we weigh each category group for our Best Places to Raise Kids list:

BestPlaces2013KidsWeighting

Best Places to Retire

The calculations were adjusted to emphasize services and conditions for retirees.

The point system;

WEATHER 20
PROPERTY TAX 6
SALES TAX 1
INCOME TAXES 3
CULTURE 5
CRIME 7
HEALTH CARE 16
TRANSIT 5
HOSPITAL 4
WALK/RIDE 6
PROXIMITY TO AN AIRPORT 2
NEW CAR 1
THEATRE 1
POPULATION GROWTH 8
NET WORTH 5
HOUSING 10
TOTAL 100

Best Places for New Immigrants

The calculations were adjusted to emphasize services and conditions for immigrants.

The point system;

WALK/RIDE TO WORK 6
TRANSIT 5
WEATHER 4.5
POPULATION GROWTH 2
UNEMPLOYMENT 8
HOUSING 4
HOUSEHOLD INCOME 3
DISCRETIONARY INCOME 2
HOUSEHOLD NET WORTH 2
CRIME 3
SALES TAXES 1
INCOME TAXES 1
DOCTORS PER 1,000 2
HEALTH PROFSESIONARL 1
DOC OFF 1
UNIVERSITY 0.5
COLLEGE 0.5
CULTURE 1
PROXIMITY TO AN AIRPORT 1.5
LANGUAGE DIVERSITY 10
IMMIGRATION POPULULATION 30
AFFORDABLE RENT (1-BEDROOM APPARTMENT) 5
RENTAL VACANCIES 5
TOTAL 101

The pie chart below illustrates how we weigh each category group for our Best Places for New Immigrants list:

BestPlaces2013ImmigrantsWeighting

5 comments on “Methodology

  1. The methodology for climate seems to be a bit of a joke. How can Victoria not be in the top 10, behind places like Leamington and Oakville Ontario? Not only is Victoria much milder than those places – no freezing cold winters or unbearable muggy summers – but Victoria also gets less rain and more sunshine than any city in Canada other than those in the Southern Prairies. Of course, with Moneysense’s bizarre methodology, Victoria – with an average of 608 mm of precip. annually – would actually be docked points for being too dry. I notice that Moneysense didn’t even use climate data for Victoria. It seems to be from the Victoria Airport, which is located 25 km away in North Saanich, and gets 45% more precip and 3 times as many days with minimum temp below 0 compared with Victoria itself.

    Reply

  2. Why does your list of 201 best cities have Langley BC listed twice but with slightly different data?

    Reply

    • Hi, #74 is the District Municipality of Langley and #153 is the City of Langley. We’ve now added the distinction on our lists. Thank you.

      Reply

  3. That Nelson, B.C., with more accolades by more respected publications than probably any 5 other city under 100,000 was left off the list is absolutely nutty. While it’s true Nelson has a practically non-existent industrial base, it has a relative knowledge-base far superior to most otherwise similar cities and life-style and liveability indexes far superior as well. Either Nelson was simply not considered or clear evidence of flawed methodology. While other cities might claim the same (although the survey appears to include almost every other city in the country!) the facts speak for themselves.

    Reply

  4. Just curious why Airdrie, Alberta was not included on the list, as it is one of the fastest growing small cities in Canada. Thanks!

    Reply

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