Best communities in Canada 2021: Methodology

Here's how Maclean’s picked the best communities in Canada to live and work remotely

The idea behind Maclean’s Best Communities ranking is that while there are many intangible things that determine quality of life that can’t be quantified and measured, a lot of tangible things can be. In our inaugural edition of the ranking, we gathered data on 415 communities across the country and compared them based on categories we thought would be most important to the average person. Then the pandemic hit, and people’s priorities changed.

Our revamped ranking assumes remote work is here to stay, asking where people should move if they’re not tied to an office and a commute. We eliminated categories assessing the local economy, since remote workers won’t have to look for a nearby job, and added a category assessing internet quality. We also streamlined some categories. For example, we eliminated rent data in the affordability category, since rents and property prices are closely correlated and it’s safe to assume a community with high housing prices will also have expensive rents.

Environics Analytics was an invaluable partner, providing a significant amount of data about each community that can’t be found anywhere else. And the Canadian Internet Registration Authority provided us with data from its Internet Performance Test Program that’s never been shared with the public before.

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 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. Except in the case of communities with duplicate names, we use the official Statistics Canada terminology 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 housing prices will get a rank of 1, and the community with the highest housing prices will get a rank of 415.
  • We assign points on a curve. For example, the housing price category is worth 19 points, so the community with the highest housing prices will receive zero points and the community with the lowest housing prices will receive 19 points. The rest of the communities will receive somewhere between zero and 19 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. 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:

Housing affordability: 19 points. Communities with the lowest housing prices get the most points. Source: Environics Analytics.

Taxes: 9 points. We awarded those points based on the following subcategories:

  • Property tax as a percent of average income, the lower the better: 2 points. Source: Environics Analytics.
  • Tax rate for average family by province: 7 points. These figures come from the Fraser Institute’s Tax Freedom Day report, which adds up different types of taxes in each province and estimates what percentage of the average family’s income they would take up. Since these figures are a composite of different types of taxes, they paint a better picture of the overall tax burden on a typical family than looking at things like sales tax rates individually, as we did in the previous version of the ranking.

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: 17 points. We awarded those points based on the following subcategories:

  • Annual days with a low above 0 C: 11.9 points. Source: Environment Canada.
  • Annual days with rain, snow or other precipitation: 3.4 points. Again, the fewer the better. Source: Environment Canada.
  • Annual days with a high above 20 C: 1.7 points. Source: Environment Canada.

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

  • Specialists per 100,000 residents in the health region the city belongs to: 4 points. Source: Canadian Institute for Health Information
  • Doctors’ offices per 100,000 residents: 3 points. Source: Environics Analytics.
  • Hospital nearby: 4 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.

Amenities: 6 points. We awarded those points based on the following subcategories:

  • Restaurants and bars nearby: 4 points. Cities with the widest selection of bars and restaurants to choose from get full points. Source: Environics Analytics.
  • Airport nearby: 2 points. Full points were awarded for communities with an airport less than 50 km away, while communities with an airport between 50 and 200 km away got partial points. Source: Google Maps.

Population growth: 6 points. 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.

Community involvement: 7 points. The community involvement index is based on a survey measuring how engaged residents are with their communities. Source: Environics Analytics.

Internet quality: 14 points. Data on internet quality comes from CIRA’s Internet Performance Test, which invites individual Canadians, municipalities and organizations across the country to test their internet speeds. CIRA identified download speeds at a midpoint between the best and worst tests performed within each community’s borders since Nov. 1, 2018, and assigned each community a rating based on how many people could comfortably work or study from home at that speed. Communities where that midpoint level of internet quality could support four or more people working or studying from home got the highest rating.

The industry standard is that households require download speeds of 25 megabits per second per person, but many Canadian households have muddled through with far less than that in the pandemic. If household members coordinate to ensure no more than one person is doing bandwidth-intensive activities like video calls at a time, CIRA determined they could get by with download speeds of 5 Mbps per person, which is the basic factor CIRA used in assigning ratings to communities. Internet quality varies widely within the borders of every community and people living in rural areas can expect significantly worse internet speeds than people living in the centre of town. See our story on internet access to learn more.