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Where to Live: Surveys Rank Attractiveness of Canadian Cities

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An important issue for future Canadian immigrants: Where do I want to live when I get to Canada? Which Canadian city will best suit my needs? Recent studies rate the attractiveness of a selection of Canadian cities, weighing the advantages and disadvantages that people consider before choosing where to live.

Canada’s population recently topped 33 million – 80 per cent of which live in cities. Given current Canadian population trends and labour force shortages, the cities that can act as magnets for new people are the ones that will be the most prosperous in the coming decades. The Conference Board of Canada’s recent report on the attractiveness of Canada’s census metropolitan areas (CMA’s) is the first-ever attempt to measure how attracted people are to various cities. Based on 46 indicators across seven domains (Economy, Innovation, Environment, Education, Health, Society, and Housing), the study ranks 27 Canadian CMA’s.

In the overall results, five of the top six spots go to big cities. Calgary (Alberta) tops the list, followed by Toronto (Ontario) and Vancouver (British Columbia). Rounding out the top six are Edmonton (AB), Victoria (BC), and Ottawa-Gatineau (ON). Calgary takes first place in the Economy category, a cut above its closest followers, Edmonton, Abbotsford (BC), Oshawa (ON), and Vancouver. Five of Canada’s six largest cities are among the top ten in the Health category. Toronto leads the way in terms of accessibility to health services, just ahead of Vancouver and Victoria. On Society indicators, such as population density, availability of cultural occupations, and percentage of foreign-born population, large cities lead the pack again; however, their scores are reduced by long commute times. Toronto, Ottawa-Gatineau, and Montreal (Quebec) are the top-tier cities in the Society category. In terms of Housing, smaller CMA’s fare much better than larger ones because of the affordability of homes. Sherbrooke (QC) takes the top spot, followed by Trois-Rivières (QC). British Columbia’s CMA’s are most attractive in terms of Environmental indicators with Abbotsford leading Victoria and Vancouver in the top three spots. Ottawa maintains its solid reputation for higher education, coming in first place in the Education category, followed by Kingston (ON) and Halifax (Nova Scotia). Canada’s six major CMA’s all ranked well in terms of Innovation.

Attractiveness, however, can be a subjective term. Canada’s “most attractive cities” do not coincide with another study’s list of the top ten “happiest cities” in Canada. This happiness report by the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, is based on how residents of 18 Canadian cities ranked their overall satisfaction with their lives on a ten point scale. Four of the top six happiest cities are smaller CMA’s in the Atlantic provinces; Saint John (New Brunswick), Charlottetown (Prince Edward Island), Moncton (New Brunswick), and St. John’s (Newfoundland). Quebec City (QC) landed the number two spot and Kitchener (ON) tied Moncton for fourth place. The study attributes the smaller cities’ higher scores to the fact that cities with established neighbourhoods and higher levels of local engagement and trust among neighbours will tend to have satisfied residents.

70 per cent of Canadian immigrants move to Toronto, Vancouver, or Montreal – CMA’s that are attractive for their cultural and economic diversity. Smaller CMA’s realize that that to become more attractive immigration destinations, they must implement new strategies to attract newcomers and build diverse cultural communities. Their solid happiness ranking is a good first step.

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