Canada’s Best Places to Live 2012

MoneySense magazine has once again taken on the enormous task of ranking Canada’s Best Places to Live and the competition was fierce.

The rankings tend to attract a ton of attention each year and, in some cases, criticism. It’s understandable why some readers get defensive; Canadians feel deep emotional connections to their hometowns.


And while there are a number of intangibles we admittedly can’t compute, like the best poutine or sunsets, other important factors that impact a city’s overall quality of life can be measured.

MoneySense uses hard data to evaluate cities in 22 categories including weather, income, housing affordability, crime and pollution. Cities are scored in each category for a possible 105 total points and ranked accordingly. This year’s list has been expanded from previous years to include 190 cities and towns with populations over 10,000. For a full explanation on how we crunched the numbers, check out our methodology.

There are a number of surprises on this year’s list. Most notable perhaps are the number of Western cities that catapulted up the rankings thanks in large part to the region’s natural resource boom which has generated new, high-paying jobs and attracted young families.

None of the top cities on this year’s list are perfect, or even close it. They do however score above average in most categories.

Here are MoneySense’s top 10 Best Places to Live:

#10 Winnipeg (66.7 pts.)

Winnipeg scores high in a couple of key categories. Despite the cold (the mercury dips below the freezing mark nearly 200 days a year in Winnipeg), the city has managed to maintain a healthy rate of population growth (5.1%). Unemployment in Winnipeg is also well below the national average (5.7% vs. 7.4%) and residents have top-notch access to transit and doctors. The city earned extra marks for being a cultural hub. A relatively high proportion of the workforce is employed in the arts, entertainment and sports—helped no doubt by the reintroduction of the Winnipeg Jets to the National Hockey League.

#9 Red Deer (66.8 pts.)

We’re not saying everyone in Red Deer has money to burn but the fact is salaries there average $105,667 a year, discretionary income is way above average and the city’s jobless rate is enviable (4.5%). The air is relatively clean and it doesn’t rain all that much. Located between Calgary and Edmonton, the city is quickly becoming a centre for mining, oil and gas extraction.

#8 Edmonton (67.4 pts.)

Edmontonians can relish the fact that they have topped their rival city of Calgary in MoneySense’s Best Places to Live 2012 rankings. The underdog city punches above its weight in discretionary income—the average resident has nearly 30% paycheque left over after paying for basic expenses like food—and taxes in Alberta are among the lowest in the country. Luckily, the city has the doctors and amenities to keep up with population growth which is running high at 11.2%.

#7 Fredericton (67.5 pts.)

Houses in Fredericton are extremely affordable with price tags averaging well below $170,000. It takes on average only two years’ salary to afford a home based on the city’s average income of $80,500. The city also ranks high when it comes to percentage of the population who walks and bikes to work (9.3%). Culture is another big part of Fredericton’s appeal. The Maritime city is largely bilingual and is home to major hospitals, universities and colleges.

#6 Brandon (68.6 pts.)

Up one spot from last year, Brandon really shines when it comes to employment, especially in the healthcare sector. The city ranks 9th in the country for healthcare professionals and 12th overall for jobs with a 4% unemployment rate.  The skies are also fairly clear in Brandon with precipitation totalling just 472 mm per year compared to Prince Rupert’s 2,594 mm per year. Enjoying the sunny skies isn’t hard in Brandon either. The city’s website boasts of a 17-km river corridor, more than 40 km of walking trails and a maximum in-city commute of 12 minutes.

#5 Regina (69.1 pts.)

Regina is the single best place in Canada for population growth at 8% (MoneySense determined 7.9% is the sweet spot in terms of sustainable growth). And, it would seem, local employers are keeping up. The city ranks 9th in the country in terms of employment with just 3.8% of eligible workers looking for a job. As a result, typical salaries a well above the norm coming in at just under six figures.

#4 Halifax  (69.4 pts.)

This is one impressive city and not just for its world-famous port. Halifax is chugging along with a healthy population growth rate, low jobless numbers, plenty of doctors and clean air. More than 20% of cars on Halifax roads are 2009 model years or newer and some 11% of residents walk or bike to work. It also scores high in the transit and culture categories, thanks in large part to the prestigious Dalhousie University.

#3 Kingston (69.6 pts.)

Kingston moved up a notch from 4th to 3rd on this year’s list. The historic city scores well above average in most categories including weather but does particular well in healthcare and walk/bike to work categories. Kingston also ranks in the top one-third for its low crime and low unemployment rates at 66th and 65th respectively.

#2 Burlington  (72.6 pts.)

Located just west of Toronto, Burlington is no shrinking violet. The suburban city bumped Victoria out its second place position thanks to its mild weather (it’s one of the top three sunniest spots in the country) and six-figure average incomes. The city has the third lowest overall crime rate in nation and transit is another strong suit with daily express commuter trains directly into the Big Smoke.

And the winner is…

#1 Ottawa (74.1 pts.)

The nation’s capital has been named Canada’s best place to live by MoneySense magazine—for the third year running. The capital’s rich culture, affordable housing, low crime rate and healthy incomes from well-paying government jobs helped the city secure the No. 1 spot on MoneySense’s Best Places to Live 2012 list. Ottawa also ranks 9th overall in the climate category thanks to its clean air, mostly sunny skies and warm summers. Good weather and infrastructure also means nearly 10% of the population rides or walks to work.

This year’s race was tight all the way down the line. See the full list.