Canada’s Best Places to Live 2017: Methodology

See how we pick the best places to live


This is the 14th edition of MoneySense’s Best Places to Live 2017. It is a comprehensive data-driven snapshot of Canadian cities and towns. This year we rank 417 cities, which is nearly double the number of communities we looked at last year. Our report captures cities as small as 9,000 residents.

There is no way to measure the intangible aspects of a city that give it personality and make it home: the quality of its restaurants, the proximity to family or even if it has beautiful sunsets. We focus on what can be measured to find cities that give residents tools they need to thrive and give new residents a reason to move there. We measure what can be measured from towns and cities across our provinces and territories. To identify the Best Places to Live in Canada we rank each community across 36 separate categories. A few minor changes were made to this year’s methodology to accommodate the approximately 200 new cities that were added. The changes, which are outlined below, went through a series of stress tests to ensure our changes didn’t arbitrarily affect our results.

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, the Best Places to Retire and the Best Places for New Canadians.

What’s new

One of the side effects of adding new cities to the mix this year is that we identified a number of small bedroom communities. Many of these communities don’t offer a great deal of employment opportunities, instead they rely on their big city neighbour for that. As a result we discover several instances where these feeder communities have extremely low unemployment rates, while their large neighbour may have a much higher jobless rate. To ensure we had a clear picture of the job market we now also consider the regional unemployment rate as well as the local unemployment rate.

Before this change, unemployment was worth 10 points on our ranking. To keep our ranking balanced, we split the points with the new unemployment rate. The local unemployment rate is now worth 5 points while the regional unemployment rate is also worth 5 points.

The unemployment rate for the economic region is calculated on a monthly basis by Statistics Canada. These economic regions track census boundaries. Unfortunately, the local rate is not updated as frequently. The local 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 unemployment data accordingly.

In order to give readers a clear sense of how much property tax they’ll pay we’ve always considered the property tax rate and how affordable that tax is relative to incomes. This year we are also showing the average dollar value you can expect to pay by living in each community. To keep the weighting of this category the same, the points were evenly distributed across the three property tax variables.

This year we also include community index in our ranking. This index is calculated by Environics Analytics based on survey data. An index value of 100 means a community’s engagement is average for Canada. An index value of 110 means a community is estimated to be 10% more engaged than an average Canadian city.

The calculations

A total of 101 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.

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 1.7% 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.

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 1.7%. 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

Economic region unemployment: 5 points
Source: Statistics Canada

Estimated unemployment: 5 points
Source: Environics Analytics, National Household Survey, adjusted by MoneySense using Statistics Canada data

Median household income: 5 points
Source: Environics Analytics

Average household net worth: 5 points
Source: Environics Analytics

Discretionary Income: 5 points
Source: Environics Analytics

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 for days above 20°C. Ideal volume of precipitation is considered to be 700 mm per year. Source: Environment Canada

% who take transit to work: 5 points
Based on the percentage of the workforce utilizing public transit. Source: Environics Analytics

% who walk to work: 3 points

% who bike to work: 3 points

This represents the percentage of people who walked or took their bike to work. Source: Environics Analytics

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: www.taxtips.ca

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

Property tax rate: 1 point
Cities with a lower property tax rate were awarded the highest marks. Source: Environics Analytics

Property tax amount: 1 point
Cities with a lower property tax amount were awarded the highest marks. 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 determined 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, 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 Central Metropolitan 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 200 km received half a point.

Culture: 2.5 points
A city could receive up to 2.5 points based on the percentage of people employed in arts, culture, recreation and sports. Source: Environics Analytics

Community: 2.5 points
A city could receive up to 2.5 points based on the their community index. The higher the index value, the better their score. 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 spaces 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 www.childcarecanada.org.

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.

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