Jack Knox: Saanich ranked No. 7, but mayor’s not gloating

Jack KnoxNo, the mayor of the seventh-best city in Canada did not phone his counterpart in Victoria — a relative dump at No. 40 — to gloat.

“We never want to have fun at the expense of one of our smaller neighbours,” said Saanich’s Frank Leonard.

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Phone connections with far-off Victoria being sketchy as they are, it was hard to tell if he was laughing.

Saanich did indeed place seventh, 33 spots ahead of Victoria proper, in MoneySense magazine’s eighth annual ranking of Canada’s best places to live.

The list, released Wednesday, rated 200 Canadian communities based on factors ranging from income, housing prices and days with rain to violent crime, the number of new cars and the percentage of people who commute by bicycle.

Calgary was deemed the best city in the country. Vancouver placed 52nd, ahead of Nanaimo (88), Courtenay (153), Duncan (154), Parksville (169), Campbell River (180) and Port Alberni (189). (Apparently, being Salmon Capital of the World doesn’t mean much to MoneySense.)

Saanich, tops in B.C. at No. 7 overall, was also the third-best medium-sized city in Canada.

“I take most of it with a grain of salt,” Leonard said.

Yes, well, we all do, but the MoneySense rankings are like the annual Fraser Institute rating of schools that way: Everybody sneers at them as statistics-twisting nonsense, and everybody rushes to see how they placed.

Besides, buried within are some fascinating nuggets.

• Homeowners in the city of Victoria take the lightest tax hit in Canada, the magazine said. “Property taxes on the average Victoria home are just $939 a year or 1.58% of household income. This picturesque city also has the highest concentration of professionals who cycle and walk to work.”

• But the capital also has the lowest discretionary spending: “Residents in Victoria have the least amount of money left over after paying taxes and other expenses. In all fairness, the low average discretionary income of $26,066 is most likely a reflection of the city’s large aging population living on fixed-income pensions.”

• Victoria and Saanich are ranked one-two as Canada’s best retirement communities. Saanich’s $84,509 average income, just short of the top 10 for Canada overall, was cited, as was its low violent crime rate. Victoria was praised for its relatively low property taxes and having the greatest number of doctors per capita. “Worryingly though, the violent crime rate appears to be quite high.”

• Saanich was the eighth best city for new immigrants, two places ahead of Vancouver. “A one-bedroom apartment in Saanich rents for roughly $827 a month. Match that with a low jobless rate and relatively high earnings potential and you’ve got a great place to plant roots.”

• People in Victoria and Saanich are among the least likely in Canada to own new vehicles. That doesn’t surprise former tire-dealer Leonard. “People don’t have to replace their cars here as often.” We don’t drive as far as other Canadians, and the climate is kinder.

• Some of the findings just offered proof that you can make statistics sit up and bark if you feed them enough. MoneySense noted that Winnipeg is, on average, warmer than Victoria. The difference being that Victoria issues an extreme weather alert any time the mercury rises over 25 C or dips below freezing, whereas Winnipeg has only two temperatures: fry-an-egg hot and frostbite cold, just like the heater in your first car.

Leonard refused to take the bait and lord the rankings over Victoria. Suburban communities generally outrank core municipalities, he noted. With that in mind, Victoria placed well.

Besides, Victoria and Saanich are like siblings who always get measured against one another, not against the other kids in the neighbourhood. Having recently returned from New Orleans, still tattered at the edges post-Katrina, Leonard is aware of how well Canadian cities compare to those elsewhere in the world.

Leonard recalled a visit to the Chinese birthplace of his wife, Jackie Ngai, a village where people had very little but made the best of their lot in life. Upon returning to Saanich, one of the first problems he faced was a complaint about dusty bike lanes. “I had to wait a couple of days before I responded,” he said.

“We’re pretty blessed.”

The rankings are at moneysense.ca.

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