Canada's Best Places to Live 2016: Methodology

Canada’s Best Places to Live 2016: Methodology

Here’s how we determine which cities are winners


    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.