Best Places to Live: Our Methodology - MoneySense

Best Places to Live: Our Methodology

How we crunched the numbers and ranked the cities.


Best Places to Live 2011 measures 180 cities, up from 179 last year. To come up with the ranking, we gathered information on Census Metropolitan Areas and Census Agglomeration areas that had a population of 10,000 or greater (and for which the required data was available). We then broke up the CMAs of Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Quebec City, Hamilton, St. Catharines-Niagara, Oshawa, Edmonton and Kitchener into their component cities of 50,000 or more in population.

The cities are graded in the categories below. The higher the potential points, the more weight that category had in our final ranking. 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 categories were scored out of a given number of points, for example 10 points for unemployment rate. 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, Estevan, Sask. had the lowest unemployment rate in the country (1.7%). It was ranked No. 1 in that category and received 10 points. The second-best city in the unemployment category, Brandon, received 9.94 points. The next city was Swift Current with 9.88 points and so on down to the 180th city (Mirimachi, unemployment rate 19.7%) which received 0.56 points.

Calculations for some other categories follow a slightly different methodology. For example, in the category of population growth, an annual rate of 7.4% is considered ideal. Anything below or above that rate loses points. The same is true for the subcategory of precipitation which makes up part of the weather category. (The ideal number is 700 ml a year, with anything above or below that losing points accordingly).

Adding together all the category point totals gives a grand total for the top cities. The maximum total points available is 105, although the top city only garnered 71.77 points while our lowest ranking city scored 33.09 points.

WALK/BIKE TO WORK: 7 points – Data taken from 2006 Statistics Canada reports. This represents the percentage of people who walked or took their bike to work.

WEATHER: 18 points – (6 for each of: amount of precipitation, number of wet days, days below 0°C). Ideal volume of precipitation is considered to be 700 ml per year. Source: Environment Canada.

AIR QUALITY: 2 points – One point for parts per million of ozone and one point for levels of suspended fine particulate matter, both of which are major components of smog. Data was from monitoring stations in or nearest to each city as reported by the National Air Pollution Surveillance Network.

POPULATION GROWTH: 10 points – Results are based on the average Canadian population growth rate from 2001-2006 of 5.4% plus 2%. Higher creates problems, lower means less opportunities. Cities with negative growth received 0 points. 2006 figures from Statistics Canada.

UNEMPLOYMENT: 10 points – 2010 data from Statistics Canada when provided and 2011 estimates derived from Canadian Demographics.

HOUSING: 15 points – (7.5 for average house prices and 7.5 for time to buy a house) House average prices from reports and listings by MLS, Canadian Real Estate Association, and the Real Estate Boards of Toronto, Fraser Valley, Vancouver and Quebec. Time to buy was derived from average price divided by average 2011 estimated household income sourced from Canadian Demographics.

HOUSEHOLD INCOME: 4 points – 2011 estimates as per Canadian Demographics.

DISCRETIONARY INCOME: 4 points – Discretionary household income as a percentage of total household income derived from 2011 estimates as per Canadian Demographics. Using a percentage figure adjusts for higher cost of living and tax factors.

NEW CARS: 4 points – 2008-2010 model year vehicles as a percent of total vehicles as per Canadian Demographics.

INCOME TAXES: 2 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 as per

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

CRIME: 5 points – Violent crime rates (2 points), total crime rates per 100,000 people (2 points) and crime severity rates (1 point) for 2009 from the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics. (Lower is better in all three cases.)

DOCTORS: 6 points – Number of general practice and specialist physicians per community provided by the Canadian Medical Association and converted to doctors per 1,000 people.

HEALTH PROFESSIONALS: 4 points – Percentage of people in each city who are employed in health occupations according to the 2006 census.

TRANSIT: 5 points – Based on the percentage of the workforce utilizing public transit according to the 2006 census.

AMENITIES: 3 points – One point each for a hospital, university and college. A city’s university or college had to have an enrollment of at least 500 students to be included. Cities in a CMA area received credit if a particular institution was located anywhere in the CMA.

CULTURE: Bonus points – A city could receive up to 5 points based on the percentage of people employed in arts, culture, recreation and sports. Source 2006 Census.