In a country as large and diverse as Canada, it’s only natural for comparisons to be drawn between cities. Which is more livable, Edmonton or Halifax? Is Vancouver better than Calgary for raising a family? Which city is best for retirees?
This is what drives us at MoneySense magazine to publish our Canada’s Best Places to Live list. We look at empirical, objective criteria such as housing affordability, incomes, job prospects, crime rates and access to health care. Even weather is taken into account. Information is taken from the Census Metropolitan Areas, Census Agglomeration and Statistics Canada.
We include every community with a population of more than 10,000 people — 180 cities and towns in all. Each one is ranked in more than 20 different categories for a final figure out of a possible 105 points. The scores are close (we go to four decimal places) and no city is perfect. Only two scored higher than 70, and just barely.
We don’t expect everyone to agree with our findings. What makes a city appealing for one person may make it unlivable for another. We’re often asked, “what about the scenery, or the community spirit?” The fact is there are plenty of subjective, intangible criteria that we intentionally leave out of our formulas for the simple reason that they cannot possibly be measured. Our list simply provides a fact-based comparison from which people can make their own decisions on where people would like to live.
Here are the top ten:
#10: Winnipeg, MB
The capital of Manitoba and home to 60% of the province’s population slipped one spot from last year. It can boast of low pollution, great public transit and a thriving cultural scene, but crime is above average and the winters can be brutal. However, access to health care is good and unemployment is low.
#9: Repentigny, QC
Celine Dion’s hometown just outside of Montreal slipped three spots from last year. On the plus side, low real estate prices and even lower crime rates make Repentigny an attractive place to live. The city ranks 7th in new cars on the road (a measure of prosperity) and has an extensive transit system — a good thing considering it ranks 161st in the ability to walk or bike to work. However, this is balanced out by easy access to health care.
#8: Edmonton, AB
Alberta’s capital cracks the top ten this year, jumping 7 spots thanks to low taxes, high levels of discretionary income and an extensive public transit system. With temperatures sinking lower than 0 degrees C 178 days a year, weather may pose a problem for some. Higher than average housing prices and crime rates also hold the city back from a better score, but scant precipitation, low pollution levels and high household incomes from the recent oil boom balance this out to make Edmonton a great place to live.
#7: Brandon, MB
Manitoba’s second largest city kept its spot this year thanks to a stellar unemployment rate (second only to Estevan, SK), low real estate prices and tax rates and clean air. The city has room to improve in terms of crime and household discretionary income, but this is made up by the low number of rainy days and plenty of access to health care.
#6: Fredericton, NB
The New Brunswick capital has a lot going for it, including the 2nd lowest time required to buy a home (after Timmins, ON), very reasonable real estate prices and low unemployment. While the city is suffers from above-average crime rates and cold, rainy weather, this is balanced out by low taxes and healthy household income levels.
#5: St. Albert, AB
This Edmonton suburb gets top marks for low taxes and high household and discretionary income. Throw in low unemployment, a steadily growing population and above-average access to doctors and health care professionals and you’ve got a very nice place to live. However, St. Albert has room to improve regarding house prices (154th), and you can forget about walking or biking to work (163rd).
#4: Kingston, ON
The former capital of the united Canadas has slipped two places from last year, but only by one point. Kingston ranks 12th for walking or biking to work, and is above average in almost all criteria save for pollution (116th) and the number of new cars on the road (107th). Kingstonians have some of the best access to healthcare in the country, ranking 2nd in doctors per 1000 people and 13th in the percentage of health professionals.
#3. Burlington, ON
This southern Ontario suburb remains in third spot this year thanks mainly to low taxes and high household and discretionary income. It has room to improve in terms of real estate prices (ranked 157th) but that’s the price to pay for the second lowest overall crime rate in the country after Caledon, ON.
#2: Victoria, B.C.
The temperate B.C. capital has jumped six spots from last year, thanks to low provincial income and sales taxes, low pollution and a steady job market. Plus, it ranks 5th overall for Victorians’ ability to walk or bike to work. While Victoria suffers from high real estate prices (it came in 170th out of 180), it cracked the top ten list for both culture and number of days per year above 0 degrees.
And the winner is …
For the second year in a row, Ottawa-Gatineau takes the top spot in our rankings. What does it have that other cities don’t? In a word, consistency. It does not rank particularly high in any individual category but it comes in above average across the board. It has jobs, accessible doctors, low crime, and household incomes and real estate are not drastically misaligned. There is a wealth of museums and galleries keep the culture-lover occupied, and the hostile winters are balanced out by beautiful summers.