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Finding Canada’s Greatest City

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper caused a stir this week with his words at the Calgary Stampede, where he called his hometown of Calgary “the greatest city in Canada”. This kind of civic boosterism is common-place amongst public officials such as backbench or lower profile MPs, or local Mayors, but not amongst national leaders.

What he said interests me less than whether or not there is merit to that claim. I decided to spend the evening trying to determine whether there is, in fact, justification to calling Calgary Canada’s greatest city. And if there isn’t, who can justifiably lay claim to that title?

Calgary Tower
Is Calgary really Canada’s greatest city?

My methods are admittedly unscientific, but I did my best to be fair with limited time and information at my disposal. I decided to rank the 20 largest cities (Census Metropolitan Areas, to be exact) according to 6 categories, and weighted the results to come up with a score out of 100. Their point total for a category was inverse to their ranking in it (ie. 1st in Quality of Life gets 20 points)

Quality of Life (20%) – A natural consideration in establishing great cities. I took the rankings from a recently released paper titled Quality of Life, Firm Productivity, and the Value of Amenities Across Canadian Cities.

Productivity (20%) – The rankings are taken from the same paper, and are the best economic metric I could find.

Smart City (10%) – For this, to evaluate a city’s commitment to education, and use of cultural and educational opportunities, I used the Canadian Council on Learning’s 2010 Composite Learning Index.

Political Leadership (10%) – Great cities produce great leaders, and contribute to public and civic life. I gave each city a point for each Prime Minister it produced who won a mandate (which only excludes the string of MacDonald successors, John Turner, and Kim Campbell), as well as any leader of a party in the House of Commons or Premier who served a minimum of 8 years in that role.

Civic Leadership (10%) – For this, I examined the number of Order of Canada recipients by city.

Travel Destination (10%) – Using TripAdvisor‘s Top 25 Canadian Destinations, I identified which cities are big draws. Hard numbers for visitors to cities and popular sites were hard to come by.

Culture (10%) – While not a fan of the MoneySense rankings (since it’s by incorporated city, not CMA), their Culture category was the best thing I could find.

You can see the full spreadsheet here. Now, the results.

1. Toronto (88)
2. Calgary (82.5)
3. Vancouver (80.25)
4. Ottawa (75.75)
5. Montreal (75)
6. Victoria (73.5)
7. Edmonton (57.75)
8. Halifax (52.75)
9. Quebec (52)
10. Hamilton (40.75)
11. Winnipeg (39.75)
12. Oshawa (39.5)
13. Kitchener-Waterloo (39.25)
14. Saskatoon (39)
15. Regina (37)
16. London (36.25)
17. Sherbrooke (33.5)
18. St. Catharines-Niagra (32)
19.(tie) Windsor (28.5)
19.(tie) St. John’s (28.5)

So. Maybe our Prime Minister isn’t far from the truth. Toronto is the undisputed winner on this list. While that isn’t a surprise, seeing Calgary finish that high, and comfortably ahead of Vancouver and Montreal, is for me. We should probably get used to it. It will continue to rival Canada’s biggest cities so long as it maintains its economic and political clout.

In terms of overall results, they follow the rankings of CMA population pretty closely, which is what I expected – with a few outliers. Victoria is the moneyball of Canadian cities, ranking 15th in CMA population but coming in 6th on this list. Halifax does well too, coming in 8th compared to 13th in population. What does this mean? I’ll explore it further another time.

In one sense, the argument about Canada’s greatest city is silly, and largely a hyper form of boosterism. In another, it can have meaning if we take it as an opportunity to consider what makes a city great, and how we can ensure we are a country of many great cities, not just one. I think we do have several great ones. Whether one is truly the greatest is, to me, probably a matter of one’s taste.

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