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City magnets: New report shows what Canadian cities are most appealing to newcomers

Downtown Ottawa

The hometown of BlackBerry, the energy capital and two ocean cities that bookend the country are some of the most appealing for newcomers to Canada, a new Conference Board of Canada report shows.

It says six cities - Waterloo, Calgary, Ottawa, Richmond Hill, Ont., Vancouver, and St. John’s - are most appealing for people on the move.

That matters, the Conference Board says, because cities want to attract and retain skilled workers to help the country stay competitive.

“Cities that fail to attract new people will struggle to stay prosperous and vibrant,” said Conference Board economist Alan Arcand.

The report, City Magnets III: Benchmarking the Attractiveness of 50 Canadian Cities, rates 50 Canadian cities based on 43 indicators in areas such as economy, health care, environment, education, housing and innovation using Statistics Canada data. It’s the third time the Conference Board has ranked the cities. The last report in was in 2010, which had similar results for the top-ranking cities.

The top 6 cities in 2014 received an “A” grade for excelling in at least two categories. Waterloo, home of the BlackBerry and now dozens of other startups, was recognized as a hub for innovation and having good post-secondary schools. Waterloo ranked first in education, second in innovation, and third for its economy.

Calgary, Canada’s oil and gas headquarters, got top marks in economic wealth, not surprisingly, as well as for innovation. It was also the only city among the 50 to rank first in two categories.

Its best results are on disposable income per capita, GDP per capita, and low proportion of the workforce travelling outside the city for employment,” the report says.

Calgary’s worst scores were in education, health and the environment, but it was the only city on the list with no “C” or “D” grades.

Ottawa did well in the society, education, innovation and economy categories. Richmond Hill (about 35 km north of Toronto) scored high in education, innovation and society and was ranked as the third-most diverse city in Canada. It also has the highest number of engineering, science and math graduates per capita, the report says.

Vancouver high quality of life makes it “one of the key destinations for new Canadians,” the report says.

However, as anyone looking to buy a home in Vancouver will tell you, the major drawback is the price of property. Vancouver understandably got a “D” for housing affordability.

St. John’s was in the top six for its strong economy and good health care services. It seems St. John’s is a good place to get sick since it has the second-best ratio of general practitioners and specialists per 100,000 people, the report states.

There were 13 cities that got “D” grades (the lowest mark in this report card) due largely to their poor economic performance, lack of innovation versus other places and lower education scores. Most of these 13 cities have seen little population growth between 2006 and 2011, which the Conference Board says is part of why their economies are dragging. Many of these cities are in the manufacturing regions of Ontario including Hamilton, Brampton, Sudbury, Windsor, Barrie, St. Catharines, Brantford, Cambridge, and Oshawa. Abbotsford, B.C., Trois-Rivières, Que. and Saint John, B.C. round out the cities scoring a “D” grade.

The Conference Board is quick to point out that its report isn’t meant to spark competition between cities in Canada, but instead is an indicator of where newcomers are landing - and reasons why. Despite those good intentions, it may not stop some in the “A” cities such as Waterloo, Calgary or Vancouver from poking fun at their friends in the “D” centres.

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