Oh, how the mighty have fallen.
In MoneySense Magazine’s annual ranking of Canada’s best places to live, the Wheat City has tumbled down to embarrassing depths. Forget the top 10 — we’re lucky to still be ranked in the top 100.
Of the best small cities — those with a population below 100,000 — Brandon took the 47th spot. And of the best cities overall — including large, medium and small cities — Brandon ranked No. 91, just above Thunder Bay and just behind Dollard-Des Ormeaux, Que.
The 2013 ranking also have various implications for other Manitoba cities. Winnipeg, for example, was named 16th-best city in the nation, and was the No. 5 top large city in Canada. It was also listed as the 10th best place to retire.
To top it off, Brandon got outranked by Steinbach, which came in at No. 61 of best cities overall. We did, however, beat out both Portage la Prairie at No. 160 and Thompson which came in at No. 164.
This is not just a momentary drop in the rankings. It’s a deep plummet that doesn’t at all square with this city’s previous placements on that publication’s list. Over the years, Brandon gradually moved up the MoneySense ranks from a 19th-place finish in 2007 to No. 7 in 2011. And in 2012 we again moved up again to No. 6, which of course allowed local politicians and local media — including ourselves — to trumpet Brandon’s merits.
At the time we reported last year’s rankings, the magazine’s editors told the Sun there were several factors that kept Brandon among the magazine’s top contenders over the years. Our population has been increasing, we have a low unemployment rate and our housing is affordable relative to many other cities across the country. At the same time, Brandon was noted as a convenient place to live in terms of biking and walking to work.
Most of Brandon’s good points haven’t really changed. For example, our unemployment rate is still relatively low at 5.05 per cent.
However, it’s worth noting that nearly every single community that ranked in the top 10 small cities category enjoy better rates. Fourth-ranked Newmarket, Ont., for example has a 4.69 per cent unemployment rate, Strathcona County, Alta., which came in second, stands at 3.51 per cent, and top-ranked St. Albert, Alta., enjoys a 3.82 per cent unemployment rate.
As well, each of the top 10 small cities had substantially better average household incomes, and were head and shoulders above Brandon in terms of home values. And though there’s precious little we can do about it, all of these communities also boast more days with temperatures above 0 C than the Wheat City.
But there have been some changes — the largest being the new criteria that MoneySense has used this year to establish its rankings — and judging by the changes, there was little doubt Brandon would fall in that publication’s new system.
Of the 11 new categories used by MoneySense, property tax measures, and a city’s proximity to an airport serviced by Air Canada or WestJet obviously played a role in Brandon’s downgrade.
Thus far, Brandon has been unable to secure commercial passenger service for McGill Field, though we have been told by WestJet officials to remain patient as they roll out their new regional airline. We remain hopeful, but until it actually happens it’s all speculation.
And we’d be hard pressed to find anyone in this city who thinks that Brandon’s tax increases over the past two years have been easy to swallow. Brandon City Council shouldn’t be surprised that the 4.9 per cent property tax hike foisted upon residents last year — and the circus that went with it — didn’t do much to help the city’s reputation. With the Brandon School Division board having just passed a 7.8 per cent property tax hike this month for the 2013-14 budget, don’t expect that reputation to improve much.
Brandon remains a wonderful community in which to live, work and play. But there is definite room for improvement. Rather than shrink away from poor numbers like these, we hope officials take them to heart and strive for better.