Quality of life sinks: report

Red Deer, Lacombe and Sylvan Lake all took a tumble among cities ranked in Canada’s Best Places to Live 2015, released this week by MoneySense magazine.

Red Deer, Lacombe and Sylvan Lake all took a tumble among cities ranked in Canada’s Best Places to Live 2015, released this week by MoneySense magazine.

Lacombe experienced one of the biggest drops in Alberta, and across Canada, in the list of 209 communities both small and large.

Ranked 17th in 2014, Lacombe plummeted 78 spots to land in 95th place this year. That put the city in fifth place nationally for the biggest nosedive.

Guy Lapointe, Lacombe’s community economic development manager, said like the rest of Alberta, Lacombe is not immune to the impact of the downturn in the economy.

He said it’s also difficult to get an accurate reflection through the community snapshot done by MoneySense, which didn’t seem to acknowledge the new regional transit system connecting Lacombe and Blackfalds to Red Deer.

“You have to take it for what it’s worth. It’s a snapshot and you move forward,” Lapointe said on Tuesday.

It’s the fourth time that Lacombe has made the list. It was ranked eighth in 2013.

“At 95, we’re still better than half,” Lapointe said.

Red Deer was the highest-ranked community in the region, even though it fell 42 spots to 75th place from 33rd in 2014.

Red Deer was ranked 9th in 2012.

Mayor Tara Veer said while communities with strong ties to oil and gas have dropped, Red Deer performed better or about the same in 2015 as in the 2014 ranking.

“Red Deer still remains a great place to live when you look at almost all of the categories,” Veer said.

“Overall, Red Deer was in the top 25th percentile for high incomes and affordable housing. It ultimately means our city remains an attractive option for people to choose to live here. Earners can make a good living and achieve home ownership,” Veer said.

She said Red Deer showed marked improvement in all four crime indicators, including crime rate and crime severity index, and achieved an percentage point increase in those who travel to work by public transit. She noted that the city has prioritized community safety and transportation.

Red Deer also saw a slightly lower unemployment rate, she said.

Sylvan Lake dropped 10 spots to 169 from the 159 in 2014.

Both Sylvan Lake and Lacombe were recognized for high incomes.

St. Albert did the best in the province, ranked fourth. The city came in first in 2014 but was pushed out of the top spot by Boucherville, Que., in the latest rankings.

MoneySense uses 34 categories to rank communities and give a detailed picture of quality of life.

The magazine looked at details like population growth, unemployment, median household income, housing, weather, transit, sales and property tax, crime, the number of doctor offices, amenities and culture.

MoneySense reports and rankings editor Mark Brown said in his report on Canada’s Best Places to Live that the drop that many Alberta cities experienced was in some ways due to their recent success.

“The heady days the province has enjoyed in recent years have attracted people to the province at an incredible rate. Between 2010 and 2014, the population grew by 15.4 per cent — nearly twice the national average over that time. While population growth is healthy, growing too quickly leads to problems. And as Canadians flocked to the province in pursuit of high-paying jobs, it took a toll on services like health care and drove up home prices,” Brown said in his report.

Red Deer saw an estimated 13.2 per cent increase in population between 2010 and 2015. Lacombe’s population increased 13.3 per cent and Sylvan Lake grew by 19.6 per cent.

Lapointe agreed that extreme growth comes with challenges.

Veer said Red Deer does need to be competitive in attracting new residents from among the many people who move to Alberta, and to attract business growth.

“Some communities unfortunately grow at the expense of the quality of life in the community. That certainly isn’t the case in Red Deer,” Veer said.

Lethbridge was dropped to 77th by MoneySense. Calgary fell to 19th and Edmonton sank to 33rd.

Five communities in Alberta climbed to a higher spot in the 2015 ranking — Canmore came in 22nd, Medicine Hat was 55th, Brooks was 64th, High River was 89th and Spruce Grove was new to the list and came in 95th.

To view the list, visit www.moneysense.ca.