Two old pals, bangin' out in Alberta

NICHOLAS KÖHLER September 8 2008

Two old pals, bangin' out in Alberta

NICHOLAS KÖHLER September 8 2008


Special Report


Is your city holding you back or is it helping you thrive?


If you were to imagine Canada’s smartest city—a place filled with fascinating people, cultural delights and endless learning opportunities—what would it be like?

It would probably be a smallish community, suggests Bert Sperling, an internationally recognized expert on cities and founder of Sperling’s Best Places, which ranks municipalities for ideal living conditions. And it would be centred around a university, or maybe a government institution. You could work in academics, at a think tank, as a highearning public servant, or you might start your own business catering to all the overachieving folks in town. There would be a sense of community, and on weekends you and your friends could spend hours at free museums and art galleries, where people from different parts of the world would converge in scholarly appreciation. It would be a city that’s “rich in culture,” Sperling says.

Chances are, few of us can claim to live in such an enlightened utopia. But a recent study by the Canadian Council on Learning

(CCL), an Ottawa-based non-profit corporation that promotes all kinds of learning, shows that some Canadian cities come close. The CCL ranked more than 4,700 communities across the country to find out which ones have the most education opportunities, and they looked way beyond what’s happening inside the classroom. They included such wide-ranging indicators as workplace training, volunteerism and even visits to the museum. Paul Cappon, president of the CCL, first came up with the idea of the index when he worked at the Council of Ministers of Education in Canada and wanted to find out more about lifelong learning. “We already measure schools very well using standardized testing,” he says, but “we know that is only a small part of learning. We need to measure what happens outside the school too.”

The CCL’s annual Composite Learning Index, now in its third year, is created with data from 25 indicators, which in turn are grouped into four “pillars” of learning, originally developed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The “learning to know” pillar focuses on formal education. It includes university attainment, high-school dropout rates, the proportion of youth who pursue post-secondary studies, and the math, science, reading and problem solving scores of teenagers. “Learning to do,” the second pillar, focuses on applied skills. It looks at the number of local vocational schools and the proportion of employees who have access to workplace training. The “learning to live together” pillar attempts to measure the social values in a community. It looks at things like the proportion of Canadians who volunteer, as well as participation in clubs, and the percentage who socialize with other cultures. The last pillar, the “learning to be” pillar, looks at cultural opportunities, and includes spending on books, museums, the arts, sports and recreation, as well as access to cultural resources.

How your city scores could have a big impact on your life. For starters, if your city ranks higher, “you’ll make more money,” says Kevin Stolarick, research director of the Martin Prosperity Institute in Toronto, who studies communities and worked on the forthcoming Canadian edition of Who’s Your City ? with demographer Richard Florida. “You will become a more skilled, educated and talented individual, and that’s going to be reflected in the money you make.” Adds Dale Kirby, education professor at Memorial University in St. John’s, “we’ve seen consistently from the OECD that if you have a higher level of


Is your city creating an environment that will help you get ahead, or could you be left behind? This ranking shows how Canada’s major cities stack up, from the best to the worst. As you can see, Ottawa and Victoria offer their citizens the most opportunities, while several of Quebec’s cities offer the least. Why should you care? Because according to the Canadian Council on Learning, having more opportunities for lifelong learning can mean “higher wages, better job prospects, improved health and a more fulfilling life.”

OVERALL LEARNING LEARNING LEARNING LEARNING CITY_SCORE TREND* TO KNOW TO DO TO LIVE TO BE Ottawa 93_2.1_6.0_7.3_5.9_7.5 Victoria 93 4.4 5.7 6.8 6.0 7.7 Calgary 92 0.5 5.3 6.6 5.2 7.9 Gatineau, Que. 92 4.8 4.2 7.3 6.0 7.5 Kitchener, Ont. 89 6.1 5 3 6 4 5.8 7.4 Barrie, Ont. 87 4Ä 5JÔ ¡ÊLT 5.4 7.1 Guelph, Ont. 87 4.2 5.0 5.2 7.1 ~~ 7.2 Edmonton_84_L2_5L0__(L3__5.3 6.4 Kelowna, B.C. 84 5?3 5X> 6.9 525 5.9 St. John’s 84 9.3 4.8 6.5 5.0 6.3 Halifax 84 3.9 3.8 7.3 5.1 6.2 Saskatoon_83_Lí__4L2__6L7_____4,9 6.2 London, Ont._82_2.6 5.2___52B__6.3 5.9 Kingston, Ont._82_325__52__5S___6.9 5.7 Oshawa, ONT._82_2L2_4S_6.7 5.7 ÍLÍT Peterborough, Ont. 80 2.2 4.8 6.5 5.3 5.5 Regina 80 -0.9 4.1 5.6 5.8 6XY Toronto_79 2.1 6.2 5.3 5.5_5.5 Winnipeg 79 223 3.7 525 525 579 Fredericton_79 4.5_3^6__6;2___6.7 5.4 Vancouver_78_1.6 6.4 4.9 4.3 5.8 Hamilton_78 0.8 5.2 5.9 5.6 5.1 Abbotsford, B.C. 77 L2 5.0 5.2 4.4 5.7 St. Catharines, Ont. 77_-0.7 4.8 5.9__ 5 0 5.2 Charlottetown 77 5.3 2.8 5.0 4.7 6.1 Windsor, Ont. 76 0.1 5.3 5.5__6.2___4.8 thunder Bay, Ont. 76 1.0 4.9 4.6____5.6 5.6 Brantford, Ont. 75 -1.3 5.0 5.7 3.7 5.1 Sudbury, Ont. 75 27b 5.0 5.6 4.8 5.0 Moncton, N.B. 75 L8 3~0 ~5S 4.8 5.3 Saint John, N.B._74 5.7_3.3__6.7__3.4__4.8 Laval, Que._72 5.8 5.0__5.3 3.9 4.8 Longueuil, Que. 72 1.3 4.9 5.2 3.8 4.7 Montreal_71 2.0 4.9 4.9___3.7 4.7 Quebec City_71 L8 4.4__^2_3.8 4.7 Trois-Rivières, Que. 68_2.0 4.0_4.3 320_ 4.8 Sherbrooke, Que. 66_L8_4>3_4.1 4X)_ 4.2 Saguenay, Que. 62 -1.4 4.1 3.8 2.3 4.0

‘Increase/decrease in points per year

Source: The Canadian Council on Learning’s 2008 Composite Learning Index (CLI)

CAN’T FIND YOUR HOMETOWN? Go to for a complete ranking of more than 4,700 cities and communities across Canada.

education among a population you’re going to be doing reasonably well economically.” There are social benefits too, says Kirby. “We know if you have a higher level of education in your population you have lower levels of incarceration. We also know that there are more positive health outcomes. People who are more highly educated are less likely to smoke and more likely to be active,” he explains. “Civic engagement, volunteerism, charitable giving, all these things are positively correlated with higher levels of education.”

Many Canadian cities already realize the importance of learning, and you can probably think of several that strike you as “smart cities.” But which city comes out on top?

This year, it was a tie: Victoria and Ottawa both headed the ranking of major cities. “Jubilation!” exclaims Helen Hughes, a municipal councillor in Victoria, recalling her reaction when she found out that her city shared the highest score on the learning index. Two days after getting the congratulatory call from the CCL, she and the mayor announced their win formally at a council

meeting. “There was clapping and everyone was saying how wonderful it is that we received this honour,” she says. Hughes is even gracious about sharing the podium with Ottawa.

“That’s okay,” she laughs. “They send us money, we send them congratulations.”

The CCL’s data shows that Victoria did well for several reasons. The city’s residents spend a greater proportion of their household expenditure (34 per cent) on social clubs than households in any other city in Canada. Almost half of Victoria households spend money on visiting museums— thanks in part to improvements to the Royal British Columbia Museum, and last year’s hugely popular interactive Titanic exhibit. Victorians didn’t do as well when it came to volunteering, scoring just below the Canadian average (see “Canada’s most caring cities” on page 50 for the full volunteerism ranking). But they made up for it with more participation in job-related training (29 per cent, compared to the national average of 23 per cent). And with two universities and two colleges


in the city, there’s a huge focus on formal education. “In Victoria we’re blessed by having people who are very interested in literacy and numeracy,” Hughes says. In fact, 92 per cent of Victoria’s households spend money on print reading material compared to the national average of 79 per cent.

Most importantly, the city is continuously making an effort to improve. Next week, Victoria kicks off its third annual “Lifelong Learning Festival.” For seven days, the downtown

mall will become a hub of educational activity, and there will be open houses at libraries and recreational centres around the city, where residents can learn new skills such as basketmaking or gardening. “We’ve been trying very hard to make this a city where we celebrate our human resources,” says Hughes.

Ottawa scored well for many of the same reasons as Victoria, but it had an additional advantage. Being the nation’s capital was a big help, says Lynn Scott, chair of the OttawaCarleton District School Board. “It enlarges our opportunities for museums,” she explains, and there are local cultural groups such as Opera Lira and the Canterbury Arts Program. “Having lots of embassies here also means there may be more awareness of diversity,” says Scott, which helps to explain why 78 per cent of Ottawans socialize with other cultures on a regular basis, compared to the 71 per cent national average.

Other helpful factors included Ottawa’s two universities and two colleges, plus it boasts an adult high school with more than a thousand students. Post-secondary participation is the highest in the country at 57 per cent, compared to 40 per cent nationally. It also scored high in volunteering: more than half of Ottawans do.

When she heard about Ottawa’s win, Natasha Entwistle, a 24-year-old diplomat’s daughter who has lived there most of her life, was surprised. “I wouldn’t have thought it,” she says. “You take for granted what you have.” But she acknowledges that as a “big small town,” Ottawa is a good place to raise children and find steady employment. “Half the city works in the government,” she says. “I already have permanency. I’d have to do something really bad to lose my job.”

It turns out that Ottawa and Victoria aren’t the only capitals that did well. Bigger cities and provincial capitals in particular tended to fare better. Other top scorers include Edmonton, Regina, Halifax and St. John’s. Such cities often have “greater municipal infrastructure,” says Kirby. Capital cities can also collect taxes from a pool of citizens beyond their own municipal limits, which may give them a leg up. “Any place that has outside money flowing in will tend to do better in the long run,” says Bert Sperling, the expert on cities, “because there’s an influx of capital.”

These cities may have more to spend on education to begin with, which may produce a more highly educated citizen, and in turn help to provide more opportunities for everyone. Cappon adds that in areas where the economy is strong and employers are experiencing a labour shortage—such as within the emerging oil sector in Saskatoon—there is a particular incentive to offer job-related training and apprenticeships to residents.

“Where there is a booming economy, companies are obliged to offer better learning opportunities because they need the skills,” he says.

“I think that accounts for some interesting things.”

The danger is that Canada could split into groups of “have” and “have-not” cities, with the wealthier ones getting smarter and smarter, while poorer, rural communities are left to wither in their shadow. But Cappon says it’s not so simple. For instance,

Toronto and Montreal didn’t do particularly well in the ranking, with Saskatoon beating both soundly. Neither metropolis scored high when it came to things like participation in sports or the availability of workplace training. Contrary to their Wild West image, Calgarians are much more likely to spend their money on attending museums and live arts performances than residents of either city (see “Canada’s most cultured cities” to the right). And when it comes to volunteering, smaller communities such as Guelph,

Ont., topped the charts, while Montreal came in dead last among big cities.

It turns out that rural and smaller communities actually have some advantages over large centres. “They have a social cohesion that bigger cities sometimes don’t have,” Cappon says. Residents of places such as Blackfalds, Alta., Kinistino, Sask., and Russell, Man., volunteer more and belong to more social groups than average. Small or rural communities don’t

inherently lack culture or education relative to cosmopolitan places, Cappon adds. “There are an awful lot of small towns that have their own museums and local history fairs. When you think of learning opportunities, you don’t necessarily have to think of just Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum.”


Better known for its raucous stampede than its theatres and museums, Calgary often finds its culture disparaged by other Canadians. Yet Calgarians, it turns out, are the most cultured people in the country. When you combine the percentage of households who spend money to attend museums with those who spend to attend the live performing arts, Calgary comes out on top, while Toronto and Montreal both languish way down the list.

Attending museums and performing arts events is important, says the Canadian Council on Learning, because “recent research suggests that engagement with cultural activities bolsters self-confidence, boosts self-esteem, and enhances creativity and communication skills.”

PER CENT WHO PER CENT WHO RANK SPEND ON SPEND ON BASED ON MUSEUMS THE ARTS TOTAL Calgary 53.5 52.2 Victoria 49.1 52.0 Gatineau, Que. 49.9 50.7 Ottawa 49.9 50.7 Barrie, Ont. 47.7 48.9 Guelph, Ont. 47.7 48.9 Kitchener, Ont. 47.7 48.9 St. John’s 34.7 53.9 Edmonton 43.0 45.1 Regina 36.5 50.0 10 Saskatoon 37.2 47.6 Winnipeg 35.5 48.0 12 Charlottetown 35.2 48.0 13 Halifax 41.2 41.6 14 London, Ont. 30.5 49.8 15 Vancouver 35.2 44.3 16 Oshawa, Ont. 38.0 40.9 17 Moncton, N.B. 37.8 40.6 18 Kingston, Ont. 36.5 41.3 19 Peterborough, Ont. 36.5 41.3 20 Sudbury, Ont. 36.5 41.3 21 Thunder Bay, Ont. 36.5 41.3 22 Toronto 37.1 40.6 23 Kelowna, B.C. 35.7 41.8 24 Abbotsford, B.C. 34.9 42.3 25 Trois-Rivières, Que. 26.8 48.1 26 Laval, Que. 29.3 43.0 27 Longueuil, Que. 29.3 43.0 28 Montreal 29.3 43.0 29 Saint John, N.B. 26.5 44.3 30 Quebec City 30.4 40.3 31 Brantford, Ont. 30.4 38.7 32 Hamilton 30.4 38.7 33 St. Catharines, Ont. 30.4 38.7 34 Saguenay, Que. 26.8 41.7 35 Fredericton 29.0 37.0 36 Sherbrooke, Que. 26.8 35.6 37

Source: The Canadian Council on Learning (original hold Spending, 2006, Statistics Canada). Note that who spent money on museum attendance or spent ing arts—attendance to free events is not included.

data from Survey of Housepercentages refer to those money on the live perform-


Just an hour’s drive west of Toronto, Guelph, Ont., is best-known for its university and rich agricultural setting. Turns out it has another claim to fame—it’s the volunteer capital of Canada. In fact, Ontario is home to three of the country’s Top Five caring communities. Quebecers, however, are less generous with their time. Gatineau is the only Quebec community that appears in the Top 10, and of the five least-caring cities, four are in that province.

Volunteer rates were important in determining the overall learning scores for major cities because, according to the Canadian Council on Learning, volunteering “helps fortify community services,” as well as providing “learning opportunities for the volunteers themselves.”

Still, one of the troubling trends revealed in the index is that many of the high scorers have been getting better each year, while some of the poorer-scoring cities have been getting worse. “You’ll see that some of them are stagnating,” acknowledges Cappon. Windsor, Ont., for example, which is below the Canadian average, has had nearly no change over three years. And some low scoring regions, such as the Saguenay and Cape Breton, have seen nasty declines.

Fortunately, other cities, such as St. John’s, are taking their ranking seriously and making huge changes to improve. Three years ago the Newfoundland capital was among the worst cities; this year it is the most improved with a score of 84, up from 69 last year and 65 in 2006. “They’ve taken the bull by the horns in a way that’s quite remarkable,” says Cappon. The community college has recognized the need for skilled trades and has increased enrolment into such programs, and the local university has been aggressive in attracting students from outside Newfoundland. There are grassroots and city initiatives to improve community centres and neighbourhoods, and its heritage centre is offering more free classes to residents to learn talents such as weaving and cartooning. There have been recent investments in the museum and art gallery too. All this coincides with a flourishing economy, rising labour force participation rate, and even slight growth in immigration. Elizabeth Lawrence, director of the city’s economic development, tourism and culture department, isn’t surprised. “The foundation of economic development is a learned

and learning society. That’s economy 101.” Other cities are realizing this too, and devising plans for improvement. Vancouver, for instance, has partnered with the CCL to become an official “learning city.” It has received more in-depth data from the index showing education conditions neighbourhood-by-neighbourhood for the whole city. That’s helped to set priorities for community leaders, such as city librarian Paul Whitney, who is part of a coalition to improve learning in Vancouver. Among those priorities are early childhood development, and learning services for the city’s Aboriginal and immigrant communities. “I think the learning city concept is a really powerful one,” says Whitney. “It is about learning providers and communities working together. It’s about initiating new learning provisions and identifying opportunities.”

But what if you don’t live in a city like Vancouver? What if you live in a stagnating, belowaverage city? Well, you could move, and Kevin Stolarick of the Martin Prosperity Institute anticipates some people will do just that. “They’ll say, T am a smart fish in a little pond and I just can’t be that anymore.’ ” But if you love where you live—despite its lack of opportunities—don’t give up hope. Stolarick says you just need to understand the power you have to change your community.

“I don’t think that’s necessarily the solution, to move or relocate,” says Kirby. “That might be an individual solution, but it’s certainly not a solution for Canadian society.” M

ON THE WEB: For more on smart cities, go to


PER CENT WHO VOLUNTEER Guelph, Ont. 69.7 Kingston, Ont. 61.5 Fredericton 57.1 Sudbury, Ont. 56.9 Saskatoon 55.9 Hamilton 55.7 Regina 55.6 Oshawa, Ont. 54.4 Thunder Bay, Ont. 54.3 Gatineau, Que. 53.7 Ottawa 53.7 London, Ont. 52.1 Kelowna, B.C. 52.0 Barrie, Ont. 50.4 Winnipeg 47.4 Edmonton 47.2 St. Catharines, Ont. 47.1 Charlottetown 46.9 Kitchener, Ont. 46.6 Peterborough, Ont. 46.4 Toronto 46.2 Moncton, N.B. 45.6 Halifax 45.3 Calgary 44.6 Victoria 43.7 St. John’s 43.6 Vancouver 42.6 Sherbrooke, Que. 42.2 Saint John, N.B. 41.4 Quebec City 38.1 Saguenay, Que. 37.5 Abbotsford, B.C. 36.9 Trois-Rivières, Que. 33.7 Brantford, Ont. 32.7 Laval, Que. 32.5 Longueuil, Que. 32.5 Montreal 32.5

SOURCE: The Canadian Council on Learning (data originally collected for the Canada Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Participation, 2004, from Statistics Canada). Volunteers are defined as those who performed a service without pay on behalf of a charitable or other non-profit organization at least once during the 12-month period preceding the survey.