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Middle of the pack

Money Sense magazine doesn’t think too much of Thunder Bay. But it could be worse. The Northern Ontario census metropolitan area ranks 109th of 201 Canadian communities ranked in the periodical’s annual list of best places to live.
Thunder Bay ranks 109th of 201 communities in Money Sense magazine's annual best places to live survey. (FILE)

Money Sense magazine doesn’t think too much of Thunder Bay.

But it could be worse.

The Northern Ontario census metropolitan area ranks 109th of 201 Canadian communities ranked in the periodical’s annual list of best places to live. That's down from 20th in 2011. 

St. Albert, Alta. was No. 1, followed by Calgary, Strathcona County, Alta., Ottawa and Burlington, Ont. Boucherville, Que, Oakville, Ont., Edmonton, Regina and Quebec rounded out the top 10.

The business magazine ranked cities in a variety of categories, including average income, discretionary income, unemployment, property taxes, average house prices, climate, crime and the number of doctors per capita.

Thunder Bay ranked middle of the pack or higher in several major categories.

The news didn't sit well with Mayor Keith Hobbs. 

"I'm getting sick and tired of these reports that are coming out," he said Thursday afternoon. 

The mayor questioned the magazine's numbers, pointing to the crime seversity index, housing prices and the city's walkability. 

"Four statistics that are totally wrong," Hobbs said. "Like the Chamber (of Commerce) report, I'm not giving it any credibility. What I'm seeing is $2.1 million in assessment growth last year and this year it's supposed to be the best on record. That doesn't tell me that we're diminishing. 

"We're going up in leaps and bounds." 

Hobbs added he heard from another magazine editor that the word on the street is that Thunder Bay has a lot going for it. 

"I guess it's who you talk to," the mayor said.

It's up to the city to do a good job promoting itself, Hobbs noted, in the face of reports like this. 

"The province has recognized that we're an up-and-coming community. We're going to be the capital of the mining. We are on the books as one of the premier city for infrastructure improvements and how we handle those ... People want to keep slamming the city? I've always said before, people that live here seem to love it. And we're attracting more people here. Kids are staying here. They're not going away. And we're attracting people from other cities. So take it how you want," he said. 

According to the study, the average annual household income was $75,358, with an average discretionary income amount of $38, 551. Wood Buffalo, Alta.’s residents earn $187,772 per household and have about $95,295 of discretionary income. Closer to home Sudbury households on average earn $82,966 and have $42,780 of discretionary income, whereas Kenora, the No. 105 city on the list, checks in at $80,973 and $42,973, respectively.

With an average household net worth of $267,786, the Lakehead ranked 123rd in Canada, well behind West Vancouver, whose average net worth is a staggering $1.63 million. Kenora’s net worth is slightly lower at $266,464, despite slightly lower average house prices.

In Thunder Bay the average home is worth $231,965, while in Kenora the number jumps to $239,812, about $700 less than Sudbury, Money Senses No. 70 community.

Average property tax paid was $1,637, while the homeowners could expect to pay about 2.17 per cent of their household income to the municipality. Those numbers are similar, but slightly better than Kenora, where homeowners can expect to pay $1,764 in property taxes each year, about 2.18 per cent of household income.

Average income tax paid by Thunder Bay residents was $8,694, the Ontario average. 

The city ranks in the bottom third when it comes to unemployment, which the magazine said hit 8.4 per cent last year, 145th best in Canada. However that number doesn't match figures provided by the federal government, which for last year remained below seven per cent. 

In quality of life categories, Money Sense says 5.7 per cent of the population walks to work, while 1.47 per cent bike and a further 2.93 per cent take public transit.

There’s encouraging news on the crime front, where the five-year change in the crime rate shows it dropped 17.46 per cent from 2008 to 2013, though the city is 27th on the violent crime severity index and 77th on the overall crime severity index with a 89.38 score.

Looking at climate, with 45.17 days below -20 C per year, Thunder Bay residents experience some of the most extreme weather in the country, the tally the 22nd most on the list. At a mean average daily temperature of 2.68 C, Thunder Bay is the 21st coldest community on the list.

Thunder Bay is the 23rd slowest growing city in Canada, with a 0 per cent population growth over the last five years – though the 22 cities ahead of them on the list experienced negative growth.

About 15.98 per cent of drivers in Thunder Bay owned cars with model years between 2011 and 2013, about half a percentage point less than Kenora. Of those cars, 0.65 per cent were considered luxury cars. Not surprisingly Wood Buffalo topped the former category at 28.41 per cent. Thunder Bay was in the bottom third.

The Money Sense chart shows about 4.89 per cent of the working population is employed in health care, 24th highest in Canada, while the 2.39 doctors per thousand was in the top half of Canadian communities measured.


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