Canada’s Best Places to Live 2016: Methodology

Here’s how we determine which cities are winners



From the Summer 2016 issue of the magazine.


MoneySense’s Best Places to Live 2016 is the most comprehensive data-driven snapshot of Canadian cities you’ll find anywhere. This year, we added eight cities and towns to grow our 219 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 35 separate categories—one more than in previous years—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:

We ranked each city against its peers and overall. A small city is defined as those cities with a population below 100,000, a mid-size city has a population between 100,001 and 400,000 and a large city has a minimum population of 400,001.

 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.

What’s new

 This year we added a new measure that compares rental rates for a two-bedroom apartment with the average household incomes within each city. The resulting ratio gives us a better sense of how affordable a city is if housing prices are excessively high.

MoneySense is constantly on the lookout for new communities to include in our annual ranking. This year we added Amherst, N.S, Bracebridge, Ont., Brigton, Ont., Gander, Nfld., Gravenhurst, Ont., Magog, Que., St. Thomas, Ont., Uxbridge, Ont., Weyburn, Sask., and Whistler, B.C., bringing the total number of communities we rank to 219.

 One of the key metrics we track is unemployment, but the most recent complete data set for all 219 cites dates back to Statistics Canada’s 2011 National Household Survey. We think you’ll agree that a lot has changed since then. The unemployment figures used for this report are not the official rates; they are MoneySense estimates. To come up with these estimates we looked to trends in the job market in the economic region around each city over the past four years and then adjusted the NHS 2011 unemployment data accordingly. These economic regions are updated monthly by Statistics Canada and track census boundaries. The economic region that includes Edmonton for example, would also include St. Albert and Strathcona County, but not the heavy oil areas to the north like Fort McMurray, Alta.

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, Wood Buffalo, Alta., had the highest median household income in the country ($191,631). It was ranked No. 1 in that category and received 5 points. The second-best city in the unemployment category, Yellowknife, received 9.98 points. The next city was St. Albert, Alta. with 9.95 points and so on, down to the 219th city (Shawinigan, Que. with a median household income of $46,462), 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 annualized rate of 1.6% 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.

 While a perfect score in all categories would give a city 103 points, the top city this year, Ottawa, only garnered 71.7 points followed closely by Burlington, Ont. at 70.6 points.

Categories and points

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 (6.6%), plus 2 percentage points or an annualized rate of 1.6%. 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

Walk/Bike to work: 6 points
This represents the percentage of people who walked or took their bike to work. 
Source: Environics Analytics

Estimated unemployment: 10 points
Source: Environics Analytics, National Household Survey 2011, adjusted by MoneySense using Statistics Canada data

 Median Household Income: 5 points
Source: Environics Analytics

Discretionary Income: 5 points
Source: Environics Analytics

Housing: 12 points

       -Average home price: 5 points

       -Average home price to average household income ratio (the lower the figure, the more affordable the home): 5 points

       -Average rent for a 2-bedroom apartment to average household income ratio: 2 points

House price data provided by Environics Analytics. Rental rates were collected from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp.

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

Transit: 5 points
Based on the percentage of the workforce utilizing public transit. 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 2013-2016. 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. 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:

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. Note 2016 property tax estimates were not available in time for publication. 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. Note 2016 property tax estimates were not available in time for publication. 

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 additional categories such as 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 and the percentage of families with kids. Daycare costs were adjusted for inflation using data from Statistics Canada.

Note some of the statistics are available at the provincial level. 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

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

Best Places to Retire

The calculations were adjusted to emphasize services and conditions for retirees, giving higher marks to cities with low property taxes, excellent access to health care, a thriving cultural community, nice weather and access to an airport.

Best Places for New Canadians

The calculations were adjusted to emphasize services and conditions for immigrants. This category considers the ethnic make up of a city as measured by the percentage of the population who say their first language is other than English or French. We also factor in the most current rental market information, examining things like average cost to rent a 1-bedroom apartment and the vacancy rates for each city. This information was collected from the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation


Photo gallery: Top 25 Best Places to Live »
See the full ranking of 219 cities »

Hover or tap to see the Best Place to Live in each region.

11 comments on “Canada’s Best Places to Live 2016: Methodology

  1. These surveys are totally out of touch with reality. North and West Vancouver are nearly impossible to afford housing except to multi-millionaires. Victoria is fast going the same way. Nanaimo pop around 100,000 with a reasonably large hospital gets no tick for health facilities or anything else including affordability. Your researchers should spend at least a week in each city surveyed, I doubt they have actually visited any of them, just read up city stats on Wikipedia.


  2. How do you calculate “Average Household Net Worth”?


  3. To MoneySense and readers, I feel compelled to inform you that ‘Halifax’, NS is not a city but is actually a REGIONAL Municipality, made up of several communities. The former City of Halifax is only one community of many in HRM. Many people who live in the other communities within the HRM do not identify as being Haligonians. Despite a 64% HRM branding survey result to not rename HRM as Halifax, HRM took the bold stance to ‘brand’ itself as H/\LIF/\X anyway; signs were changed throughout HRM despite citizen opposition. A Halifax Chamber of Commerce representative recently expressed in a blog on their website that they are pleased that finally the former twin cities of Halifax and Dartmouth are a singular entity, ‘Halifax’. Basically the name of the former City of Lakes, Dartmouth, NS is being wiped off the map quite literally. While HRM leadership continues to “Live the Brand” in HRM, this seemingly misguided grab for power (I call it the bloodless coup) and desire to be a “big city” player (identity crisis I believe) has backfired on them as evidenced by your “Canada’s Best Cities to Live 2016” report. It is my understanding that in 2012 we were ranked 4th; 2013, 20th; 2014, 26th; 2015, 67th; 2016, 74th, Way to go H/\LIF/\X! … NOT! My opinions and comments are reflective of my view of the HRM leadership; staff, political, and business. The citizens of HRM are in general kind-hearted, friendly, generous, warm and welcoming, hard working and very capable; … I love my community of Dartmouth and my neighbours to the west in the community of Halifax.


  4. I would say surveys like this are inaccurate. What people consider to be the best in a city would depend a great deal on what they value in life. The title of the magazine “Money Sense” certainly indicates on what their value sense is focused. The unmeasurable factors in where one lives can be a major determinant in how one may feel about their town or city. I moved to Halifax from Ottawa many years ago after living in several cities and communities in Eastern Canada as well as a few others in parts of the world. While it may not be as well off financially in a general sense, the size, manageability , and enjoyment of daily life is pretty hard to beat. I was in Ottawa recently which has grown immensely since I lived there and observed the rushed way of life of most of the people I encountered. Personally this is the great turnoff for me of large cities in general and that they tend to be so impersonal. I do love travelling to many places throughout the world and find a lot of wonderful differences which I truly appreciate but I always love the peace, love and beauty of Halifax, Nova Scotia in general and you totally don’t get what wonders Cape Breton has to offer.


  5. Just when I thought you only knw 3provinces- you found a place in Alberta. Most of these places are financially out of reach for normal consumers. Not impressed


  6. Port Credit is PART of MISSISSAUGA. You can’t have them as separate entries – bad methodology altogether.


  7. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Using the “new car” ratings is backwards. As if there is anything positive about car debt which most people with new cars have. Also, it could be argued that if more people have newer cars the older cars are rusting out early which is a negative. I’ll never understand that rating. At least it isn’t worth much this year.

    In general, as usual, the rating list doesn’t mean much. As always the cities in the top like to brag though.


  8. Being a Torontonian, I am a bit biased on this but I think this list is absolutely ridiculous. Toronto, and other cities such as Montreal and Vancouver, are world class cities. They offer rich cultural diversity, endless options for dining and entertainment, there is no ceiling to how far you can take your career almost regardless of which industry you work in, they offer amazing post-secondary institutions, and I could go on.
    According to this list, Bracebridge, Ontario(one of the few places that ranks highly that I have actually been to) ranks higher than Toronto? I’ve been to Bracebridge and it’s a nice picturesque little town, but there is no industry, there isn’t much going on, people are isolated from the rest of the world, and I would never in a million years move there.
    I know it possible to use numbers and data irresponsibly to make a case for any argument, but bear in mind, to a large extent people vote with their feet about where the best place to live is. If I owned MoneySense and people brought this to me to be published, I would laugh them out of my office and then fire them. Lastly, I pitty the fool who believes this nonsense.


  9. Ottawa? Toronto? Vancouver? Have you actually talked to people who live in these places? Have you ever met anyone who doesn’t live in Eastern Canada? This list is by far the worst you’ve ever done. It’s basically a way to tell people how great big cities are. I’m surprised you didn’t just put Montreal at #1.


  10. No serious data analyst uses pie graphs, so your cred takes a shredding right off the top.
    Another blunder has to be in how a city goes from ‘not on list’ to #18 on the list— c’mon, this is embarrassing.
    What prompted me to look this up was an OpEd in the local birdcage liner where the writer commented how far Guelph has fallen, because of our new Mayor.


  11. I live in Burlington, Ontario, so I am pleased that Burlington achieved 2nd place with less than l point between it and Ottawa. I checked out the methodology, very good, but I was looking specifically for gender and age as it pertains to work, child care, services, retirement numbers etc. I could not find them, were these variables not included?


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