Best communities in Canada 2019: Methodology - Macleans.ca

Best communities in Canada 2019: Methodology

Maclean’s gathered data on 415 communities across the country and compared them to find the best spot in Canada

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Many intangible things that determine quality of life can’t be quantified and measured, but a lot of tangible things can be. We gathered data on 415 communities across the country and compared them in the following categories: Wealth and economy, affordability, population growth, taxes, commute, crime, weather, access to health care, amenities and culture. Environics Analytics was an invaluable partner, providing a significant amount of data about each community that can’t be found anywhere else.

We make categories we think are most important to average people worth the most points. Different things are important to different people, of course, and we invite you to adjust our category weightings to your taste and find the city that’s perfect for you using our build-your-own-ranking tool.

What we refer to as “communities” are “census subdivisions” in Statistics Canada’s terminology. Census subdivision boundaries are usually the same as municipal boundaries. Generally, what we call a “community” is a town or city with its own mayor. We use the official Statistics Canada names for these communities, which might sometimes be different from what locals call them.

In most cases, this is how we award points to the 415 communities in each subcategory:

  • We rank how each community did compared to its peers. For example, the community with the lowest median household income will get a rank of 415, and the community with the highest median household income will get a rank of 1.
  • We assign points on a curve. For example, the median household income subcategory is worth four points, so the community with the lowest median household income will receive 0 points and the community with the highest median household income will receive four points. The rest of the communities will receive somewhere between zero and four points, depending on where they ranked.

Sometimes, data isn’t available for all 415 communities in a given subcategory. In those cases, we fill in the missing figure with one we can reasonably assume is close. For example, for communities in health regions where data wasn’t available about knee replacement wait times, we substituted the average wait time among health regions Statistics Canada considers part of the same peer group. This process only works if there’s enough data about comparable communities to make an educated guess. Unfortunately, that’s why we don’t rank any communities in the Territories — there’s too much missing data and no easy way to accurately fill it in.

Here’s how we weight the points in each category and subcategory:

Wealth and Economy: 20 points

  • Economic region unemployment rate: 3 points. The lower the better. Source: Statistics Canada labour statistics for March 2019, three-month moving average.
  • One-year change in economic region unemployment rate: 3 points. With top points going to cities with the fastest-shrinking unemployment rates. Source: Statistics Canada labour statistics for March 2018 and 2019, three-month moving average.
  • One-year change in economic region full time employment: 6 points. With top points going to cities that added full time jobs at the fastest rate. Source: Statistics Canada labour statistics for March 2018 and 2019, three-month moving average.
  • Median household income: 4 points. Source: Environics Analytics.
  • Average household net worth: 4 points. Source: Environics Analytics.

Affordability: 20 points

  • Ratio of average household discretionary income to average household income: 4 points. Discretionary income is the amount of income left over for spending or saving after taxes and necessities. Source: Environics Analytics.
  • Average value of primary real estate, the lower the better: 4 points. Source: Environics Analytics.
  • Home affordability: 4 points. We divide the average value of primary real estate by average household income. A lower number is better. Source: Environics Analytics.
  • Rent affordability: 4 points. Similarly, we divided the annual average cost of renting a two-bedroom apartment in the city by average household income. Source: Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, Environics Analytics.
  • Rent price growth: 4 points. We calculated how quickly rents for two-bedroom apartments grew or shrank over one year, awarding top marks to the fastest-shrinking and bottom marks to the fastest-growing. Source: Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, Environics Analytics.

Demographics: 6 points

In the main ranking, the demographics category has only one component: Five-year population growth. Cities that added lots of residents over the past five years got more points, while cities that grew more slowly got fewer points. Cities with zero or negative population growth got zero points. Source: Environics Analytics.

Taxes: 7 points. We awarded those points based on the following subcategories:

  • Provincial sales tax rate, the lower the better: 1 point. Source: Retail Council of Canada.
  • Property tax as a percent of average income, the lower the better: 1 point. Source: Environics Analytics.
  • Average dollar amount paid in property tax: 2 points. Source: Environics Analytics.
  • Provincial income tax: 3 points. We calculated the dollar amount of provincial income tax someone making the Canadian median household income would pay, awarding top points to cities in the province with the lowest rate. Source: Canada Revenue Agency.

Commute: 10 points

We ranked cities on the percentage of residents who walk (three points), bike (three points) and take transit (four points) to work. Source: Environics Analytics.

Crime: 7 points

This category is based on the five-year average of the crime severity index for the police service covering each community. The lower, the better. Source: Statistics Canada.

Weather: 10 points. We awarded those points based on the following subcategories:

  • Annual days with a low above 0 C: 7 points. Source: Environment Canada.
  • Annual days with rain, snow or other precipitation: 2 points. Again, the fewer the better. Source: Environment Canada.
  • Annual days with a high above 20 C: 1 point. Source: Environment Canada.

Health: 11 points. We awarded those points based on the following subcategories:

  • Family doctors per 100,000 residents in the health region the city belongs to: 1 point. Source: Canadian Institute for Health Information
  • Specialists per 100,000 residents in the health region the city belongs to: 1 point. Source: Canadian Institute for Health Information
  • Doctors’ offices per 100,000 residents: 1 point. Source: Environics Analytics.
  • Hospital nearby: 2 points. A hospital must have an emergency department and be inside the city’s borders or less than a 30 minute drive away to count. Source: Provincial lists of hospitals, Google Maps.
  • Procedure wait times in the city’s health region: 3 points. We examined the median wait time in days for two procedures (hip and knee replacements) where data was available at the health region level. Source: Canadian Institute for Health Information.
  • Provincial wait times for various procedures: 3 points. We examined the median wait times for nine procedures where data was only available at the provincial level: Cataract surgery, breast cancer surgery, lung cancer surgery, colorectal cancer surgery, bladder cancer surgery, radiation therapy, hip fracture repair, prostate cancer surgery and bypass surgery. Cities in provinces with lower wait times got more points. Source: Canadian Institute for Health Information.

Amenities: 2.5 points. We awarded those points based on the following subcategories:

  • College nearby: 0.5 points. A college must be included in the Maclean’s College Guide and be within the city’s borders or less than an hour by public transit away to count. We also include satellite campuses of these colleges that offer a broad range of programs. For cities with no public transit, we included colleges that are up to a 15 to 25 minute drive away. Source: Maclean’s College Guide, Google Maps.
  • University nearby: 1 point. A university must be included in the Maclean’s university rankings and be within the city’s borders, or less than an hour by public transit away, to count. We also include satellite campuses of these universities that offer a broad range of programs. For cities with no public transit, we included universities that are up to a 15 to 25 minute drive away. Source: Maclean’s university rankings, Google Maps
  • Movie theatre nearby: 0.5 points. It doesn’t matter how many movie theatres are nearby; cities that have at least one get full marks. Source: Environics Analytics.
  • Restaurants and bars nearby: 0.5 points. For this subcategory, it does matter how many there are. Cities with the widest selection of bars and restaurants to choose from get full points. Source: Environics Analytics.

Culture and community: 5 points. We awarded those points based on the following subcategories:

  • Percentage of the population working in arts, culture and recreation: 2.5 points. Source: Environics Analytics.
  • Community involvement index: 2.5 points. The community involvement index is based on a survey measuring how engaged residents are with their communities. Source: Environics Analytics.

Sub-ranking: Best Communities for Families

To find the best community to raise a family, we added some additional data sources. We expanded the demographics category to include the percentage of the population under the age of 15 and the percentage of families with children, awarding more points to cities with lots of kids.

We also added an entirely new category, measuring the cost and availability of childcare, worth seven points. If data wasn’t available for a city, we used figures from the closest one that did have available data.

The families sub-ranking decreases the weighting of wealth and economy to 14 points, making affordability more important on a relative basis. We also beef up the importance of a safe community by increasing the weighting of the crime category to 12 points, and make access to a college or university more important.

Here are the data sources for the subcategories unique to Best communities for Families:

  • Percentage of children 12 and under that have a regulated daycare space available: 2 points. Source: Childcare Canada.
  • Percentage of children five and under that have a regulated daycare space available: 1 point. Source: Childcare Canada.
  • Monthly cost of infant daycare: 1 point. Source: Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
  • Monthly cost of toddler daycare: 2 points. Source: Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
  • Monthly cost of preschool daycare: 1 point. Source: Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

Sub-ranking: Best Community to Retire

There are certain things you don’t have to worry about any more when you retire, such as finding a job or getting a university education. Other things, like healthcare and weather, become more important. To find the best community to retire, we reduced the weighting of or eliminated the former and beefed up the importance of the latter.

Sub-ranking: Best Community for New Canadians

Like the best communities for families, our ranking of the best communities for New Canadians adds a data source to the demographics category. In an effort to identify cities with vibrant multicultural communities, we rank the percentage of residents who speak a language other than English or French, giving the most points to places with the most linguistic diversity. We also added proximity to an airport to the amenities category and increased the importance of the unemployment rate and rent affordability.