Canada’s smartest cities 2010

Learning across most of the country has stalled. Is your city a bright spot?

Photograph by Geoff Howe

A decade ago, urbanists had just about written the obituary for St. John’s, Nfld. The fate of the hard-luck port town, like much of Newfoundland, was wedded to the fisheries. Between 1992, when the cod moratorium was announced, and 2006, the province lost 11 per cent of its population—the youngest, brightest and most productive 11 per cent, as Newfoundlanders will tell you. Everyone figured St. John’s would become a wasteland, because it had such low learning and employment opportunities, says Paul Cappon, president and chief executive of the Canadian Council on Learning (CCL), an Ottawa-based non-profit that ranks more than 4,500 Canadian cities and communities annually.

Overall Rankings

Grim social and economic warnings no longer define the region. When, a few years ago, geologists realized that more than two billion barrels of accessible oil lay buried off the provincial coast and Premier Danny Williams helped restore a sense of pride in the place, St. John’s started to get its mojo back. Three producer fields, Hibernia, Terra Nova and White Rose, provide plenty of new work, including about 14,000 jobs in spin-off industries. And Technip, a local subsea engineering and construction firm, is using its “Engineer here. Live here” campaign to lure Newfoundlanders back from Houston and Calgary. They’re among a tide of returnees, says one local, bringing home “new ideas, and ways of doing things.”
Sure, St. John’s benefited from the boom, but smart policy, a focus on investments in the arts, sports and recreation, and formal education has helped make it a bustling Atlantic centre. It may not be Canada’s smartest city—that honour goes to Victoria—but in the five years the CCL has been ranking the country’s cities, St. John’s has shown the greatest improvement.

And it’s not the only success story down East. Strategic investments in the knowledge sector have also paid off for Fredericton, the second-most improved city in Canada during this stretch. Today, the New Brunswick capital—which boasts Atlantic Canada’s highest per capita income—is home to 70 per cent of its knowledge-based companies, creating a high-tech hub in the Maritimes. And the New Brunswick government has also been investing more heavily in the arts—specifically Symphony New Brunswick, Theatre New Brunswick and the Atlantic Ballet. Both Fredericton and St. John’s have dramatically improved their Composite Learning Index (CLI) score, the measure by which the CCL ranks cities. St. John’s has shot up from a score of 65 in 2006 to 80 this year; Fredericton has gone from 69 to 78 (Victoria improved to 95 this year, up from 88 in 2009). In that time, St. John’s jumped 10 spots in the ranking, leapfrogging Ontario cities like Mississauga, Brampton and St. Catharines, and finished 14th this year.

While St. John’s and Fredericton are getting “smarter,” learning in Canada, by and large, has stalled. And in some places, we’re getting even dumber, according to the CCL’s new report. Learning almost everywhere in the country except for Victoria and the Maritimes has flatlined, with potentially dire consequences to Canadian competitiveness and productivity, warns Cappon. Canada’s private sector, he notes, is among the lowest performers ranked by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). And when it comes to skills acquisition and workplace training, Canada ranks among the bottom third of OECD countries. Right now, just one-third of Canadians take part in job-related training. This, he predicts, will get even worse when the data from the recession is tabulated. “When budgets are tight, training is one of the first things to be cut,” says Rob Greenwood, head of Memorial University’s Harris Centre. But Canadians aren’t doing much to improve their lot at home, either. Since 2002, spending on books, magazines and newspapers has dropped off drastically—27 per cent for newspapers, and 18 per cent for magazines. Meanwhile, in Victoria, one of Canada’s most literate cities, 85 per cent of households spent money on books, newspapers and magazines last year.

But Victoria didn’t grab the top spot this year just for being well-read—or for that matter, its ocean views, cherry blossoms or the warm climate. The CLI is based on data from 26 measures, which are grouped into four “pillars” of learning, a framework originally developed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The first, the “learning to know” pillar, focuses on formal education, including university enrolment, high school graduation rates and students’ standardized test scores in math, science, reading and writing. The second pillar, “learning to do,” looks at skills acquisition. It considers, for example, the number of vocational schools within driving distance, how cities stack up when it comes to workplace education and training, and—just as importantly—how many workers take up the offer. The “learning to live together” pillar measures a city’s social values: how many in the community volunteer? How many are active in clubs: scouts, a church, a political party? How many socialize regularly with people from other cultures? “Learning to be,” the final index, considers cultural opportunities as well as per-capita spending on books, museums, art galleries and sports and recreation.

Victoria, home to two universities and two colleges, earned top marks in three of the four pillars. Almost half of Victoria residents visited local museums, including the Royal B.C. Museum, Carr House and the Maritime Museum of B.C.; for Canadian cities as a whole, the figure is 35 per cent. The city of just 78,000, which sustains a symphony, two ballets, an opera and a philharmonic choir, is also the only Canadian city where 100 per cent of the population has access to high-speed Internet, compared with 68 per cent for Calgary, last year’s “smartest city.” Fully 77 per cent of those in Victoria spend money on Internet services, compared with just 56 per cent for Quebec City. Victoria’s residents are brawny, too: 52 per cent spent money on sports and recreation, compared with 35 per cent for Moncton, N.B.

How your city scores when it comes to learning is important, say experts. Research has consistently shown that the better educated a city’s population is, the higher their incomes will be. And, says Kevin Stolarick, research director of Toronto’s Martin Prosperity Institute, as places become more prosperous, they become happier. What’s more, “dynamic economies and well-paid jobs attract smart people,” adds Greenwood.

Canada’s smartest cities tend to be snug, efficient, modest-sized centres—the type idealized by urban historian Lewis Mumford for avoiding the congestion problems, outsized real estate prices and yawning income gaps typical of megacities. (There’s nothing new to the idea that small and smart go hand-in-hand: cities like Venice, Amsterdam and Genoa once controlled the Western economy, nurturing modern capitalism and creating the piazzas, canals and tight cores that urbanists drool over still today.)

Smart Cities 2010: Get Your Score

One of the more troubling results this year is that the six bottom spots—Laval, Longueuil, Montreal, Sherbrooke, Trois-Rivières and Saguenay—are all in Quebec. Trois-Rivières and Saguenay, where the rate of volunteering and the percentage who socialize regularly with other cultures is half that of Saskatoon, are considered “at-risk” by the CCL.

Once, you might have imagined the same of St. John’s. “When the index was launched there was a clear East-West gradient in favour of the West,” says Cappon. Newfoundland and New Brunswick have done very specific things to improve the conditions of learning in their cities. The healthier the economy, the more willing employers are to make investments in human infrastructure, offering job-related training, apprenticeships and mentoring programs.

For starters, incomes in St. John’s have always lagged well behind other Canadian cities, says David Campbell, a Moncton-based expert in economic development. But incomes are climbing rapidly; already, the city boasts the highest median income in Atlantic Canada—it’s almost on par with Ontario, Campbell adds. And income, he says, drives everything. More money in your pocket means there’s more available to spend on new technology, sports and recreation—and it puts “more bums in seats,” adds Greenwood. Suddenly, people in St. John’s “aren’t so nervous about spending $60, $70 for a ticket to a show,” says Memorial University’s Gail Gosse, noting that even Cirque de Soleil touched down in St. John’s last year. These days, it seems, there’s a book launch, an art or a choir event every night. “You have to choose what to miss,” says gallery owner Emma Butler. Her George Street West space, the Emma Butler Gallery, features local big guns: Christopher and Mary Pratt and David Blackwood. Not long ago, she adds, you couldn’t miss a thing—there wasn’t anything to miss. Local officials realize that cities are more than “sidewalks, brick and mortar,” says Mayor Dennis O’Keefe. Ten years ago, that wasn’t the case. Now, he says, the city says yes to busker festivals, yes to parades and to street closures. “We have a city council that says: yeah, we can find the money for that—we can help make it happen.”

More money, both public and private, is being poured into local arts festivals, the symphony and the philharmonic choir, and residents are spending more on theatre and concert tickets, museums and books. Five galleries have opened in the past few years. The Rooms, the spectacular, new, all-in-one provincial art gallery, museum and archive designed by Christopher Pratt’s brother, Philip, has injected the arts scene with an aura of prestige, says Butler. City sports and recreation programs are full; the more popular programs have wait lists, says city official Elizabeth Lawrence. The local heritage centre is offering free classes in weaving and cartooning, grassroots efforts to improve community centres and neighbourhoods abound, and Memorial University has kicked up the number of public lectures and breakout sessions it offers the local community. A “huge cohort” of leisure learners has recently enrolled at Memorial University—teachers picking up courses in library studies, and professionals taking “Developing Green Buildings,” and “e-Marketing Essentials,” explains Gosse, its program head. The College of the North Atlantic, the largest college in the province, has doubled the number of spots in many of its trades programs.

A smart city, after all, is one where people are engaged with each other, the government, and the businesses around it, says Bert Sperling, the Portland, Ore.-based founder of Sperling’s Best Places, which ranks municipalities by living conditions. The promise of a job, say experts, is no longer enough to attract smart people; cities need amenities, vibrancy and culture, which “signal that these are prosperous, exciting places,” says Stolarick. St. John’s, he adds, has begun acting as a “magnet,” sucking up talent from nearby provinces. New investments in arts, culture and formal education are all parts of the puzzle.

Gosse says 10 years ago she would never have guessed St. John’s could look the way it does today. Recently, she was asked to create a purchasing list for new university equipment. At first, she was stuck. After a decade of trimming budgets, laying off staff and cutting programs, she had to relearn that skill.

Smart Cities 2010: Get Your Score




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Canada’s smartest cities 2010

  1. Education is the key to the future. The knowledge economy can't function without it.

    Unfortunately some people seem to have lost the entire keychain.

  2. I think you're right. Affluent Chinese enthusiastically attend classical music concerts, classical music being the one genre the Communists couldn't warp with propaganda, but the audience at live theatre performance looks as Canada did thirty years ago. Even if you were born here, if your parents weren't that is often a big determinant on whether you buy a newspaper or attend arts functions. If you're struggling to learn a language already, why pay to struggle even more in your leisure time?

  3. One of the measures for Learning to Live is learning about other Cultures, Ottawa received a failing grade on this in a city where every week during summer and fall is dedicated to some cultures festivals and such. They are all well attended and seem to be profitable for the cultural associations, are they saying that Ottawans don't go to these festivals and that it must be tourist attending. And I agree with previous statements, Victoria may be pretty but it is Canada's Florida, well off Canadians go there to retire. That is why they spend more time in Liraries or Concerts, they are not burdened with jobs.

  4. I agree – my first thought about the study is that I have quit buying paper magazines simply because I now do my reading largely on the internet.
    It is also true that "mega-cities" face challenges that most small and medium sized centres just don't have to worry about.

  5. The comment of Victoria being a city of only 78000 is slightly misleading. The 'Metro' or Greater Victoria region has a population of roughly 330000. Alas, the politicians of Greater Victoria are hell-bent on maintaining their little bailiwicks instead of doing the 'intelligent' thing and seeking amalgamation. The region could easily make do with 6 city councillors and a mayor, but instead we have 90 civic politicians for our relatively small city. I wouldn't be surprised if Greater Victoria has the highest per capita political representation of any Canadian city.

    Also, Maclean's should note that Victoria's status as the provincial capital and as a tourist centre allow the city to support many attractions that other centres of similar size could not support.

    • This report looks at all cities and towns not CMAs, so it's not really misleading.

      • I understand the difference between a CMA and a city, but it seems Maclean's is referring to the metropolitan or Greater Victoria region as the article assigns ownership of several non-Victoria institutions to the City of Victoria 'proper.' For example, the University of Victoria is located in Saanich and Oak Bay, whilst Royal Roads University is located in Colwood. Camosun College is also located in Saanich. Now, to the average visitor (and any Greater Victoria resident with some common sense), these institutions look like they are in Victoria because there is no noticeable difference when you cross the border from Victoria into Saanich, Oak Bay, Colwood, or Esquimalt. Even the 'post town' or mailing address for all these different cities is 'Victoria'. Maybe 100 years ago there was a noticeable difference between the 'bustling' city of Victoria and the agrarian settlement of Saanich, but today everything from Sidney to Victoria to Langford functions as one large city.

    • Hi Anders, To my knowledge, there has never been an amalgamation of a Canadian city that has resulted in savings for the tax payer. Amalgamations cost money. Moreover, reducing the number of politicians decreases our opportunities for participation in local politics.

  6. Bonko, bonko, bonko – accept the fact. If the people of Ontario had to endure 1/4 of the pain and suffering the Newfoundlanders have endured, they would be extinct by now – I am not fibbing, Newfoundlanders look at every crisis, every challenge as an opportunity and make the best of it. Whereas the whinney assed Ontarians look at a crisis as the end of the world and a time to strike out and destroy. Don't be jealous of the accomplishments of the Atlantic Provinces, be proud. Be proud to be Canadian. Bonko

    • It would be easier to "Be proud to be Canadian" if you stopped calling one third of us "whinney assed".

      I'd be even more proud if you could spell your sweeping demographic generalizations correctly.

      Whinney? Neigh, that's not the correct spelling.

      • You can lead a commenter to a dictionary, cut you can't make them spell. :-)

      • Perhaps "whinney assed" is some down-east term for flatulent?

  7. Hmm! It looks like you have a very, (too) good impression about yourselves, Bonco! On some extend, maybe you are right, thinking about a specific category of immigrants you have brought in here but honestly, when I came here in 1995 and I have gotten in contact with Canadian officials, teachers, doctors etc, I was very disappointed. Only the political situation of the country of origin made me give Canada more chances. In other words, I found here a very low level in both, professionally and general knowledge. My wife has many nights going to bad crying because we couldn't go back since we have sold everything and spent around $70,000 of our money on different things in Canada in order to build a bit of comfort and have a decent life.

    Anyway, I don't want to offence anybody, you are good people, no doubt about it but please, don't sell yourself out too expensive because it is not in your advantage, at all.

    best personal regards!
    RaduC

    • I don't know where you came from in 1995, but I think that you have been in Canada long enough to know the English language better then you do. It should be "my wife has spent many nights going to bed crying because we couldn't go back since we had sold everything" and the word should be offend, not offence and I don't even know what you mean by "don't sell yourself out too expensive because it is not in your advantage,"

  8. "Victoria's high rate of "literacy" consists of grannies who still subscribe to the paper and Maclean's, ie is nearly 100% attributable to its demographics which trend old and White."

    So, just to make it fair to the rest of Canada, old, white people that read newspapers and buy books shouldn't be included in the stats?

    Victoria would still win.

    • What centre of excellence do you reside in, Bonkers? I'd like to make some gross generalizations.

  9. How would you explain Saskatoon and Regina being in the top 10? Saskatchewan if over 50% Native now. Your arguments are full of bull. Ease up on the Easterners Bonko, we all know Central Canada has been a black hole for many years now. Wanting all, feeling entitled to all, contributing little, sounds a little Greek to me.

    • Once again, thanks for joining us here on Sweeping Generalization Radio!

      Tomorrow, we discuss why the Black Hole of Central Canada is sending so many workers to the Redneck Racist Roundup in Alberta. Monday, it's the Newfies and "Why Can't They Stop Drinking", and from Tuesday to Friday, we have open lines where you can call in with your best "Why the Quebeckers are such greedy bastards" anecdotes.

      • Love your comments! I can almost see the tongue in the cheek. Some of your titles might be new programs that SUN news readers/viewers are waiting for. Yes, wheneveer we generalize, we are wrong (generally)

  10. Seems like a lot of dicussable facts here ,especially Newfoundland who as usual leaches on all the others and then if they get a little something, they sure don;t want to share it with others ,and still prey on Quebec again to pass their hydro electricity on our lands to sell to Americans (like if Labrador geographically belonging to Quebec was not enough)

    • "Seems like a lot of dicussable facts here"
      – Yet you have nothing to say that is worth reading

      ",especially Newfoundland who as usual leaches on all the others"
      - Federal Government raping the NL fishery then walking away from the province
      - Abitibi Bowater clear cutting then walking away from the province

      ",and still prey on Quebec again to pass their hydro electricity on our lands to sell to Americans "
      - Churchill falls Hydro is actually sold to QC Hydro at 2 cents / Kilowatt hour thanks to J.R. Smallwood QC Hydro resells that electricity to the NY pwre grid at 22 cents/kilowatt hour….Yeah, NL is preying on QC with the Hydro deal

      For the love of god pick up a history book and read it will you. This list is only reflecting the areas of the country that are making improvements. NL having been the "have not" cousin for so long why do you folks seem to feel the need to take your narrow minded views and express them every chance you get now that NL is catching up to the rest of the country? What are you really so upset about losing the stupid newfie jokes?

      • We have the same thing happening out west….Alberta is constantly getting slammed by Ontario people in particular. It

    • Newfoundland doesn't "leech" off of other provinces. It's been over looked and taken advantage of by all levels of Government for years. They have a very positive future now in the Oil and Service industries and The "rich" provinces shouldn't and have no right to a piece of the preverbial pie. As for Hydro Quebec, you really should educate yourself on the subject before you make yourself look even more ignorant.

    • How does Labrador geographically belong to Quebec you bigot?

  11. This is a positive story, but the analysis is deceptive and misleading. St. John's' successes have little to do with the vague assortment of reasons given (rising incomes, proactive businesses). They're the product of one reason and one reason alone: a provincial government that invests heavily – HEAVILY, and unabashedly – in social programs. From reducing tuition fees to increasing the minimum wage to proactive poverty reduction programs, the provincial government of Newfoundland and Labrador has pushed an agenda heavier on social spending than any government in Canada has seen in decades. THAT is the reason for their success. If anything, the idiotic business community has squealed and tried to slow down progress as much as it can, and thankfully the provincially government steamrolled right over them in pushing sensible policies (the backward business community deserves ZERO credit; if anything it continues to try to undermine the government's very successful policies). This at a time when other provinces – the ones that are crashing in these rankings – are reducing social spending, privatizing right and left (Newfoundland by contrast has been *nationalizing* its operations) and losing billions of dollars in wasteful public-private partnerships that do nothing but lose money and decrease efficiency and accountability. *That's* the reason for St. John's success, and it's one all the other backward provinces would do well to learn from before they completely ruin their economies and their residents' opportunities.

  12. Just so you 'journalists' and, spit, 'editors' know – reading newspapers and magazines is not an indicator of intellect. In fact, today's newspaper is written at a Grade 7 comprehension level. Whether that is for the benefit of the readers or the journalists is up for debate.

    The intelligent man is getting his news from the internet and is avoiding garbage like the Edmonton Journal and the Toronto Star. Todays's newspapers and magazines (yours included) are written by idiots for idiots. Sadly, you guys are just as pathetic online too.

    • And you're here in what capacity – media critic? Being an 'intelligent man' you can't be here getting your news…

    • Spot on Jim. The self serving, glad handing content and overstating the obvious news headlines underscore your assertion. There are several more dailies that should be added to your list. Added to the smörgåsbord of journalistic mediocrity is the manner in which credibly, well run, locally owned dailies have been snapped up by larger broadsheet operations becoming nothing but clones of the mothership.

  13. Wow ! A little racist toward "white" Canada aren't we? Not everything has to centre around multi-culturalism and immigrants, which eastern Canada has been financially raped by our Governments for years to help finance. I suggest you read something other than political,bleeding heart propaganda before you make such disgraceful and ignorant comments. Enjoy your day.

  14. You must not relaize that Newfoundland and Labrador are paying Ontario's bills now.

  15. "Premier Danny Williams helped restore a sense of pride in the place"

    Really smart cities are the ones that feel ashamed of themselves until a rich blowhard anoints himself to high office.

  16. What's all the fuss about? The rich get richer like usual and the rest of us, like me… get taxed to DEATH!!!

    Ontario has always carried the burden of the country. Just for those who didn't know, Ontario is now a "HAVE NOT" province. We've had the crap kicked out of us. Industry and alike have moved south (Mexico) and our elected officials who are supposed to be supporting our communities are only supporting their pockets (DISCLOSE EXPENSES!!!)

    And one more thing… BIG Thanks to Dalton, I can 'really' afford another 8% on just about EVERYTHING!!! Way to go hero!!! You're killing the service industry!!! and so soon after a ho-hum recovery… what we're you thinking? Polish the resume buddy… that's all I have to say!!!

  17. To Labby…Labrador belongs historically to Newfoundland, and since 1927 it is undeniably part of Newfoundland, as confirmed by the
    Judicial Committe of the Privy Council in London after a 5-year trial. In 1927 little old Newfoundland as an independent nation beat Quebec and Canada in that court case for ownership of Labrador. Quebec politicians refuse to acknowledge that international ruling, but the boundary was entrenched under the terms of union in 1949.. The 1927 ruling was the last case of any magnitude that Newfoundland won, because ever since 1949 we are subject to Canadian courts which consistently favour Ottawa and Quebec.

  18. We effectively lost control of our hydro power to Quebec when they consistently refuse transmission rights, and are supported in this by Ottawa even though there is no such problem with cross-provincial oil pipelines elsewhere in the country. We lost control of our offshore oil resources to Ottawa in a federal case in te early 1980's, even though the western provinces are allowed to be full beneficiaries of theirs. Our fisheries were traded internationally to former Soviet-bloc countries to help secure deals for the sale of western grain. And most recently we tried to exert some influence over our timberland resources and wind up adversely affected by a Quebec court ruling.That's not whining…those are facts of history that demonstrate both how Newfoudland contributes to this country and how it hasn't received a fair shake since being subject to Canadian law…as far as the Canadian government and courts are concerned the needs of the many living in other provinces outweigh the needs of the few in Newfoundland….we lack the representation in the Canadian political system to get a fair and equitable application of policy and laws.

  19. I love you Canadians. I am from the States and often look to your country to help get a fresh perspective on (a) what is wrong with mine, and (b) possible ways to fix it. This is a very enlightening discussion, since it gives me more insight into the nature of your provincial tensions than the Canadian history books I've read. I am proud to call you my neighbors to the north, and enjoy your frequent ribbing about my crazy imperialist nation. My hats off to you, friends.

  20. Victoria is 1 of 13 municipalities in the Greater Victoria Region. It is the downtown for the region and therefore hosts a disproportionate amount of cultural and sporting events compared to its neighbours.

    It should be noted that the University of Victoria is not located in the City of Victoria proper. Rather, it sits in both the District of Oak Bay and the Municipality of Saanich. I wonder if this survey used consistent boundaries for each indicator (in other words, did it rely on data from the City of Victoria or from the whole CMA?). Is there a link to the actual study somewhere so that we can check the methodology?

  21. Thanks Sean for pointing out the historical facts surrounding Newfoundlands treatment at the hands of Canada and through the back door Que.At times i find myself so angry at what has taken place but worse again the ignorance displayed by some including here, is enough to push a guy over the edge.

  22. what a bunch of crackers. all of you!

  23. That result simply demonstrates again how canadians do not understand Quebecers. Just to accept to publish something like that without precautions, Macleans demonstrates its ignorance or something else …
    For some of you who have lived in Quebec for a time, you have probably noted that for example, the number of televisions hours are mainly maded and produced by Quebecers; the US series are an exception in the province.
    The Montreal Jazz Festival has a world renomme; le Festival de l'humour is now exported in many countries, including in the rest of Canada (it was created in Montreal); Les Francopholies opens their doors to french artists all over the world; Quebec cinema is very active as you can see by the number of prizes that Quebec movies have won over the years at the Genie Awards. In Quebec and Montreal there are Free Journeys to the Museums. And, Quebec musicians, wheweter they are French or English (Leonard Cohen, Rufus Wainright, Céline Dion, Arcade Fire,..) are renommed all over the world.

    Montreal is the "berceau" of the numeric creation in North America; even studios from Canada, US and Europe come in Montreal to learn.

    But, as always with the stats, they can say whatever you want ..

    • You SSSSSUUUUCCCCKKKKK, and your comments are long and boring!!!

  24. That's cool. It's pretty llong though.

    • Heyyyy Emilee,
      that's comment was awesome, I agree with you!!

  25. I also heard that Montreal has skidded off the list of Canada's top ten smartest cities while Victoria has pushed to the top. Meanwhile Calgary fell to the third spot on the list with a score of 88. Ottawa is listed as fourth at 87, followed by Regina with 84.Toronto is ninth with a score of 81. I wonder what criteria evaluate these wonderful city?

  26. its good website and i want 2 visit again in future

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