Dueling rankings for city spark controversy

Matt Gardner
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Two recent lists ranking Prince Albert among other cities have elicited starkly different reactions from local business and political representatives.

Prince Albert Daily Herald

In its April 2014 issue featuring its annual ranking of the best cities to live in Canada, MoneySense magazine ranked Prince Albert in 184th place among 201 cities, down from 175th place last year.

By contrast, Prince Albert again ranked in the top third of 133 cities for the 2014 KPMG Competitive Alternatives Study, placing 14th internationally for cost competitiveness and 11th among the 32 Canadian cities included.

Mayor Greg Dionne reacted favourably to the KPMG study while largely dismissing the results of the MoneySense ranking.

Noting that he had been unfamiliar with MoneySense prior to being asked about their study, Dionne questioned the statistics for Prince Albert quoted in the magazine’s ranking.

“Of course this (KPMG) one’s very positive and to me has more validity to it because when I looked at the other one, the price of housing was out by quite a bit,” Dionne said.

“So this one seems to be a lot better report, and of course it tells me that Prince Albert’s a good place to do business.”

Prince Albert and District Chamber of Commerce CEO Merle Lacert echoed many of the mayor’s concerns about the MoneySense ranking as he took a closer look at their numbers.

“The first thing I guess I took away after looking at the ranking was the criteria that was used, and then in some cases maybe the stats that back that up,” Lacert said, pointing to the unemployment rate as an example.

While MoneySense stated that Prince Albert had an unemployment rate of 9.7 per cent, Lacert -- though acknowledging P.A. and northern Saskatchewan had traditionally had the highest unemployment rates in the province -- questioned how the magazine had arrived at those figures.

“I guess what I don’t know for the purpose of the report is what they’ve measured, if they measured Prince Albert or if they measured more of our northern region, because our northern region is definitely more consistent in having higher unemployment rates,” he said.

Regarding a population growth of 3.6 per cent between 2008 and 2013 quoted in the study, Lacert pointed out that it was equally important to measure growth on the economic front.

“It’s difficult to attract residents without having jobs for the residents,” he said.

“I call it good or OK growth -- moderate growth,” Lacert added. “But it definitely doesn’t compare to some other larger centres or even areas … that are booming like Estevan or further down south … I think for us to see that kind of growth, we need the overall combination of good growth in our commercial sector with a population influx coming in to support those new jobs.”

Of course this (KPMG) one’s very positive and to me has more validity to it because when I looked at the other one, the price of housing was out by quite a bit. Mayor Greg Dionne

Where the MoneySense figures for housing were concerned, Lacert again questioned the magazine’s numbers.

Though the magazine stated that the average house price in Prince Albert was $347,536 -- with an average of 4.39 years to buy a home in the city -- the Chamber CEO pointed to a study last fall that put the average price for homes in the city as closer to the $250,000 range, compared to $350,000 in Saskatoon.

Meanwhile, average household income in the MoneySense survey was estimated at $79,216.63 for Prince Albert.

“I don’t have stats around income, but I would say that that’s a fair representation -- and again, I would just say if that number’s correct, at $79,000, it represents a couple things,” Lacert said.

“One of course is as a city, we’re about 65 per cent retail. The other sectors that we have for larger employers of course, are health and even corrections.

“Now if we got other business in here -- whether it be the pulp mill, gold mines or other types of larger employers -- we’d likely see average incomes increase. Because we are a lot of retail, that will likely kind of depress some of those average earnings.”

Drawing larger conclusions from the national MoneySense ranking, Lacert noted that cities in Alberta had ranked highly and pondered the lessons Prince Albert could draw from their success.

“One of the areas that maybe helped them was also on the taxes side or sale tax, meaning that in Alberta, it’s basically all harmonized,” Lacert said. “That equates to about five per cent taxes, where ours without the harmonization and the combined taxes is 10 per cent.

“So even taxes is something that our province could look at to make us more attractive as a province,” he added. “And then from there I would say as a community, we would maybe we could look at some of these stats and if they’re not entirely correct, or misinterpreted, then maybe we could provide clarification on them to turn some of the perceived weaknesses into strengths.”

Organizations: Prince Albert, KPMG, MoneySense magazine Prince Albert and District Chamber of Commerce CEO Merle Lacert

Geographic location: Canada, Northern Saskatchewan, Alberta Saskatoon

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