Last August, The Economist released its worldwide Liveability Ranking, in which Vancouver, Toronto and Calgary finished third, fourth and fifth respectively, leading me to question whether Toronto was really that much better than Calgary. Despite their high rankings in the world’s leading financial publication, none of the three cities cracked the Top 10 nationwide in this year’s MoneySense list of Canada’s Best Places to Live. In fact, they aren’t even close. Toronto comes in 46th (out of 190 cities and towns with a population over 10,000), with Vancouver a distant 56th and Calgary a more-respectable 14th. Meanwhile, less exciting cities such as Ottawa, Halifax and Mangina, Sasksnatchewan are ranked first, fourth and fifth, with Burlington(!?) and Kingston(!!!), Ontario rounding out the Top Five. Having been to all of the aforementioned cities (if you count stopping briefly on a Greyhound bus), I’m left slightly puzzled by MoneySense‘s senseless methodology. In fact, I had to flip to the masthead to make sure they weren’t published in the nation’s capital. I mean, who wants to live in a city that doesn’t have any good restaurants (or so I’m told)?
However, it seems that quality dining experience does not contribute to the MoneySense rankings, as the mag lists “Walk/Bike to Work,” “Affordable Housing,” “Household Income,” “Discretionary Income,” “New Cars,” “Population Growth,” “Low Crime,” Doctors per 1,000 Residents,” “Weather,” “Jobless Rate” and “Culture” as its key indicators. Don’t get me wrong, some of these are important factors, but putting both walking to work and new cars together on this list is a tad contradictory, dontcha think? As for Affordable Housing, well, Vancouver’s dead-last ranking in that category likely explains why it comes in below such bustling burrows as Sherbrooke, Sarnia and Wetaskiwin. And yet, it’s still leaps and bounds ahead of Montreal, which finished a whopping 146th! Apparently the cultural capital of Quebec’s (5th in culture) low rankings in affordable housing (175th), both household and discretionary income (165th), population growth (115th) and jobless rate (175th) have it scraping the bottom of the barrel–and the rankings don’t even take taxation or infrastructure into serious consideration! Well, y’know, I’ve always said that Montreal’s a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t wanna live there…
Toronto also scores highly in culture, coming in sixth behind Vancouver, North Vancouver, Victoria, Canmore, AB(!?) and MTL. Hey, The Economist also gave top marks to Van City in the culture category, but what’s Canmore doing so high on this list? Guess the editors at MoneySense really like cross-country skiing, which explains why Yellowknife is eighth and Whitehorse ninth in said category. (I’m still scratching my head over that one…) Like Montreal, The Centre of the Universe™ loses marks for its lack of affordable housing and high jobless rate, while also not providing an adequate number of doctors per 1,000 residents, to which I can personally attest. It does score noticeably higher in the income categories (48th household, 28th discretionary) while scoring remarkably well weather-wise–according to a scale that determines the best weather in the country can be found in the GTA (Oakville, Burlington, Port Hope, Mississauga) and on Vancouver Island (Victoria, Saanich). All in all, I can live with Toronto being in the middle of the pack. It is, after all, not the best place to raise children or to live on a low income.
But here’s one I don’t get: How the hell is Deadmonton (8th overall) ranked six spots higher than Calgary? Any list where the Murder Capital of Canada™ ranks in the top 10 places to live doesn’t seem very legit to me. Let’s take a look at the tale of the tape:
Walk/Bike to Work: Neither city scored highly on this one, which is worth seven out of 105 overall points. That said, MoneySense gave a 15-point edge to Deadmonton, at 108th vs Calgary’s 123rd ranking. I guess I’ll take their word for it. (Slight) Advantage Edmonton.
Affordable Housing: This category makes up 15 points in the rankings, and is neither city’s strong suit. Calgary comes in five spots higher than Deadmonton at 119. PUSH.
Household/Discretionary Income: Everybody in Alberta knows that the high-paying oilpatch jobs are up north, with many well-off rig-workers calling Deadmonton home for two weeks of the month (40th household, 22nd discretionary). But Albertans also know that the oil executives all live and work in Calgary, which finished 8th and 7th respectively in the two income categories. Advantage Calgary.
New Cars: Mo’ money, mo’ new cars for Calgary, which laps Deadmonton, 59 to 92. Advantage Calgary.
Population Growth: Both cities are growing at a rapid pace, but Calgary is growing faster–which is a bad thing, according to MoneySense. Deadmonton was 68th in this category, Cowtown 95th. Advantage Edmonton.
Low Crime: Yeah, let’s just say that Deadmonton did not win this category. If they only finished 109th out of 190 in terms of lowest crime rates, it’s because MoneySense‘s measures weighed heavily on per-capita crimes versus overall numbers. In any case, Calgary cracked the Top 40, coming in at 37. HUGE Advantage Calgary.
Doctors per 1,000: In this category, both cities fared far better than Toronto, which doesn’t surprise me. MoneySense does give a mere 13-point lead to Deadmonton in its rankings, however. I betcha those doctors are a lot busier too, especially in the ER! (Slight) Advantage Edmonton.
Weather: Now here’s where I hafta question the magazine’s methodology, as Deadmonton appears 30 spots higher in the weather category. Last time I checked, they did not have Chinooks that far north. So what gives? Well, actual temperatures only account for six out of 18 points in MoneySense‘s rankings, with the other 12 points going to precipitation, divided evenly between total amount and number of “wet days.” So I actually looked this up, and found that Calgary actually had more precipitation than Edmonton in 21 of the past 22 quarters, going back to 2006. Who knew? Advantage Edmonton (though I still call BS!)
Jobless Rate: If both cities are in the Top 20 overall, it’s largely due to their low unemployment levels. MoneySense gives a slight edge to Deadmonton, at 33rd to Calgary’s 42nd. PUSH.
Culture: Clearly, Calgary’s more cultured than the so-called City of Champions, which still wishes there was some way to bring the 80′s back. What I don’t get is how the Stampede City is ranked lower than Canmore, Yellowknife and Whitehorse–until I read that this category is only worth bonus points, “based on the percentage of people employed in arts, culture, recreation and sports.” This is completely different from The Economist‘s ranking, which actually includes sporting availability, cultural availability, food and drink as well as consumer goods and services in its Culture category, worth 25 per cent of its rankings, as opposed to a maximum of five bonus points. But I digress. Advantage Calgary.
The Tale of the Tape: Calgary 4, Edmonton 4. And that’s after giving Deadmonton the edge in two categories where it ranked no more than 15 spots higher than Calgary on a list of 190 cities. But with weather and population growth accounting for 28 out of 105 points, while Household Income, Discretionary Income, New Cars and Crime were all worth a grand total of 17 points, one starts to see how MoneySense favours the provincial crapital. Of course, that’s only their opinion…
Here are a few more interesting findings from the MoneySense rankings:
Oakville, where I once spent a summer internship working for Ford, seems like the kinda place you’d wanna live. It was boring as fuck for a 20-year-old student, mind you, but families can point to the fact that it apparently has the nicest weather in Canada as per MoneySense, while finishing second in household income and boasting the third-lowest crime rate. With stats like that, you’d think it would be pretty darn near the top of the list. However, it places no higher than 17th, due to its unaffordable housing (165th), lack of access to doctors (110th) and the fact that nobody walks or bikes to work (167th). Ironically, I walked down the shoulder of Ford Drive, a highway exit with no sidewalk, to get to work that summer. I can also attest that most crosswalk buttons in Oakville are placed at the ideal height for an eight-year old–and right below the knees of someone who’s a shade over six feet tall.
Not surprisingly, Oakville, being the Ford town that it is, along with its identity as an affluent suburb for the GTA’s upper crust, ranks 14th in the New Cars category. Oshawa, a lower-income city just east of the GTA, is 57th, despite being home to a large GM assembly plant. But who’s number one? Whitehorse, Yukon! I guess they don’t make ‘em strong enough for the arctic winters down south. Interestingly enough, the Toronto suburb of Markham comes in second on this list. Then again, there are an awful lot of car dealerships in Markham. Rounding out the top five are the Montreal suburb of Blainville, the Vancouver suburb of Richmond, and… St John’s, Newfoundland! I guess they don’t build ‘em as good on the mainland dere buddy!
The richest city in Canada, as per the MoneySense rankings, is Wood Buffalo, Alberta. If that name doesn’t ring a bell, it’s worth noting that the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo includes Fort McMurray, the oil-sand capital of Canada. Now we’re talking! Rounding out the top five are Oakville and Aurora in the GTA, Edmonton suburb Strathcona and Yellowknife. And while Whitehorse has the most new cars per capita in the country, Yellowknife has the second-most people who walk or bike to work. Go figure!
Although the GTA gets a bad rap for its perceived high crime rate, these rankings suggest that perception doesn’t equal reality. In fact, 20 of the Top 23 cities in the Lowest Crime category can be found in and around the Golden Horseshoe. Toronto itself is a respectable 61st. The safest cities outside the GTA are Richmond, BC, Repentigy, QC (north of Montreal) and Levis, QC (next to Quebec City). The most crime-ridden? North Battleford, SK, Thompson, MB, Yellowknife, despite–or perhaps due to–its high-income earners that walk to work, along with Williams Lake and Prince Rupert, BC. Oddly enough, the five cities with the lowest jobless rates are all in the Top 50 when it comes to most crimes.
Regina is the top city in population growth, which means that it musta hit the MoneySense ideal growth rate of “5.9% plus 2%” dead on. Coming close were Repentigy, QC and Newmarket, ON–which also finished in the overall Top 20. Cities with a net population loss received 0 points in this category, of which there were 26 in the rankings.
So, what makes Ottawa so freakin’ special!? The nation’s capital ranked in the Top 20 in population growth, new cars and doctors per 1,000 people, Top 40 in low crime, household income and people who walk/bike to work and was seventh in culture, finishing higher than 65th in just one category: affordable housing. Although housing was worth 15 points in the rankings, only two of the overall top 10 cities (Brandon and Fredericton) finished in the Top 75 in that category.
On the flipside, New Glasgow, NS, was ranked dead-last overall, despite its relatively-affordable housing (28th). The Northern Nova Scotia town of 9,455 finished in the bottom 10 in income and joblessness, and despite a relatively high number of new cars (75th), fared no better than 132nd in the other major categories. Rounding out the bottom five were Williams Lake, BC (fourth-highest crime rate, 178th in new cars and culture), Kawartha Lakes, ON (181st in number of doctors, negative population growth), Truro, NS (178th lowest crime, 172nd best weather) and Port Alberni, BC (fourth-fewest new cars, 168th household income). Thetford Mines in northern Quebec earned the dubious double distinction of having the worst weather and the second-lowest household income in the rankings, but was kept out of the bottom five by its affordable housing (16th) and low crime rate (31st).