Canada's Best Places to Live 2018: Methodology - MoneySense

Canada’s Best Places to Live 2018: Methodology

How we find the best of the best

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Ranking 415 Canadian cities from Salt Spring Island, B.C. to Conception Bay South, Nfld. isn’t easy. Some might even say it’s impossible. While it’s true our ranking is unable to capture the beauty of the sunsets or the passion of the local hockey team’s fans, we think a lot of the things that make a city a great place to live can be measured.

We rank how each city measures up in 10 categories: Wealth and economy, affordability, population growth, taxes, commute, crime, weather, access to health care, amenities and culture. We give each category a weight out of a total of 100 possible points, making categories we think are most important to average people worth the most points. Different things are important to different people, of course, and we invite you to adjust our category weightings to your taste and find the city that’s perfect for you using our build-your-own-ranking tool.

We made a number of tweaks and adjustments to this year’s ranking. That means this year’s results are not directly comparable to previous years.

Two of the biggest changes we made were to the health category and the demographics category. The ranking now includes data on the median wait times for various medical procedures. We awarded points to cities where residents get faster access to surgeries and treatments.

The demographics category in the main ranking used to measure the five-year annualized population growth of cities against an ideal rate pegged at slightly above the national average, with cities penalized for growing faster or slower. While it’s true that fast-growing cities can face challenges, we believe those difficulties can be absorbed and addressed if local leaders are effective. We also didn’t want to penalize suburbs of major cities that are growing quickly because they’re building a lot of new housing, which is vitally important to address the affordability crisis in Vancouver and Toronto. As far as we’re concerned, if lots of people want to move to a city, that’s a good sign — and if the municipality is doing a bad job of handling that growth, it’s likely to be reflected in other areas of the ranking.

A note on how we define a “city:” We examined the largest of what Statistics Canada calls “census subdivisions,” defined geographical boundaries that usually encompass a municipality. Sometimes Statistics Canada uses names that are different from those in common usage — for example, if you’re looking for Fort McMurray, Alta., the name of its census subdivision is Wood Buffalo.

Here’s how we determine how the cities score in each category. Unless otherwise noted, we award points by ranking all 415 cities in each sub-category, giving full points to the city that does the best, close to zero points to the city that does the worst and something in between for the rest of the cities on a curve. In cases where data was not available for every city, we substituted a comparable value — for example, for cities where there was no data on rental prices, we substituted the weighted average of rental prices in the same economic region. We cut two cities from the ranking this year — Whitehorse and Yellowknife — because we would have had to make too many substitutions for missing data to obtain an accurate final result.

Wealth and Economy: 20 points. We awarded those points based on the following subcategories:

  • Economic region unemployment rate: 7 points. The lower the better. Source: Statistics Canada labour statistics for March 2018.
  • One-year change in economic region unemployment rate: 5 points. With top points going to cities with the fastest-shrinking unemployment rates. Source: Statistics Canada labour statistics for March 2017 and 2018.
  • Average household income: 4 points. Source: Environics Analytics.
  • Average household net worth: 4 points. Source: Environics Analytics.

Affordability: 20 points. We awarded those points based on the following subcategories:

  • Average household discretionary income: 4 points. Discretionary income is the amount of income left over for spending or saving after taxes and necessities. Source: Environics Analytics.
  • Average value of primary real estate, the lower the better: 4 points. Source: Environics Analytics.
  • Home price to income ratio: 4 points. We divide the average value of primary real estate by average household income. A lower number is better. Source: Environics Analytics.
  • Rent affordability: 4 points. Similarly, we divided the annual average cost of renting a two-bedroom apartment in the city by average household income. Source: Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, Environics Analytics.
  • Rent price growth: 4 points. We calculated how quickly rents for two-bedroom apartments grew or shrank over one year, awarding top marks to the fastest-shrinking and bottom marks to the fastest-growing. Source: Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, Environics Analytics.

Demographics: 6 points

  • In the main ranking, the demographics category has only one component: Five-year population growth. Cities that added lots of residents over the past five years got more points, while cities that grew more slowly got fewer points. Cities with zero or negative population growth got zero points. Source: Environics Analytics.

Taxes: 7 points. We awarded those points based on the following subcategories:

  • Provincial sales tax rate, the lower the better: 1 point. Source: Retail Council of Canada.
  • Property tax as a percent of average income, the lower the better: 1 point. Source: Environics Analytics.
  • Average dollar amount paid in property tax: 2 points. Source: Environics Analytics.
  • Provincial income tax: 3 points. We calculated the dollar amount of provincial income tax someone making the Canadian average individual income would pay, awarding top points to cities in the province with the lowest rate. Source: Canada Revenue Agency.

Commute: 10 points

  • We ranked cities on the percentage of residents who walk (three points), bike (three points) and take transit (four points) to work. Source: Environics Analytics.

Crime: 7 points. We awarded those points based on the following subcategories:

  • Crime rate per 100,000 residents in the area covered by the local police service: 1 point. The lower the better. Source: Statistics Canada.
  • Five-year change in the crime rate per 100,000 residents in the area covered by the local police service: 1 point. The biggest drop got the top points. Source: Statistics Canada.
  • Crime severity index in the area covered by the local police service: 2 points. The Crime Severity Index takes the severity of crimes into account, whereas the crime rate is simply the total number that were reported. A lower number is better. Source: Statistics Canada.
  • Five-year change in the crime severity index in the area covered by the local police service: 2 points. Source: Statistics Canada.
  • Violent crime severity index in the area covered by the local police service: 1 point. The Violent Crime Severity Index examines violent offences only. Source: Statistics Canada.

Weather: 10 points. We awarded those points based on the following subcategories:

  • Rain vs. average: 2 points. We compare the annual rainfall in the city to an ideal of 700mm, awarding the most points for cities that came closest to that amount. Source: Environment Canada.
  • Annual days with rain: 3 points. The fewer rainy days, the better. Source: Environment Canada.
  • Annual days with rain, snow or other precipitation: 1 point. Again, the fewer the better. Source: Environment Canada.
  • Annual days with a low above 0C: 3 points. Source: Environment Canada.
  • Annual days with a high above 20C: 1 point. Source: Environment Canada.

Health: 11 points. We awarded those points based on the following subcategories:

  • Family doctors per 100,000 residents in the health region the city belongs to: 1 point. Source: Canadian Institute for Health Information
  • Specialists per 100,000 residents in the health region the city belongs to: 1 point. Source: Canadian Institute for Health Information
  • Doctors’ offices: 1 point. Source: Environics Analytics.
  • Hospital nearby: 2 points. Source: Google Maps.
  • Procedure wait times in the city’s health region: 3 points. We examined the median wait time in days for two procedures (hip and knee replacements) where data was available at the health region level. Source: Canadian Institute for Health Information.
  • Provincial wait times for various procedures: 3 points.  We examined the median wait times for nine procedures where data was only available at the provincial level: Cataract surgery, breast cancer surgery, lung cancer surgery, colorectal cancer surgery, bladder cancer surgery, radiation therapy, hip fracture repair, prostate cancer surgery and bypass surgery. Cities in provinces with lower wait times got more points. Source: Canadian Institute for Health Information.

Amenities: 4 points

  • We awarded points to cities that have a college (half a point), university (one point), movie theatre (half a point) or airport (1.5 points) within reasonable driving distance. We also ranked each city on how many restaurants and bars are nearby for a maximum of half a point. Source: Environics Analytics.

Culture and community: 5 points. We awarded those points based on the following subcategories:

  • Percentage of the population working in arts, culture and recreation: 2.5 points. Source: Environics Analytics.
  • Community involvement index: 2.5 points. The community involvement index is based on a survey measuring how engaged residents are with their communities. Source: Environics Analytics.

Sub-ranking: Best Places to Raise Kids

To find the best place to raise a family, we added some additional data sources. We expanded the demographics category to include the percentage of the population under the age of 15 and the percentage of families with children, awarding more points to cities with lots of kids.

We also added an entirely new category, measuring the cost and availability of childcare, worth seven points. If data wasn’t available for a city, we used figures from the closest one that did have available data. We awarded points based on the following subcategories:

  • Percentage of children 12 and under that have a regulated daycare space available: 2 points. Source: Childcare Canada.
  • Percentage of children five and under that have a regulated daycare space available: 1 point. Source: Childcare Canada.
  • Monthly cost of infant daycare: 1 point. Source: Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
  • Monthly cost of toddler daycare: 2 points. Source: Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
  • Monthly cost of preschool daycare: 1 point. Source: Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

Sub-ranking: Best Places to Retire

There are certain things you don’t have to worry about any more when you retire, such as finding a job or getting a university education. Other things, like healthcare and weather, become more important. To find the best place to retire, we reduced the weighting of or eliminated the former and beefed up the importance of the latter.

Sub-ranking: Best Places for New Canadians

Like the best places for families, our ranking of the best places for New Canadians adds a data source to the demographics category. In an effort to identify cities with vibrant multicultural communities, we rank the percentage of residents who speak a language other than English or French, giving the most points to places with the most linguistic diversity. We also increased the importance of the unemployment rate, rent affordability and proximity to an airport.