The pandemic has been good to Atl. Canada’s Gotham

From 131st to best-place-to-live without breaking a sweat

It has been a good year for Halifax. Atlantic Canada’s largest urban centre by a wide margin (more that double the population of St. John’s) was tied with Oshawa for the fastest population growth in 2020 among all CMAs across the country.

The no-gall-at-all folks at MacLeans changed their minds about Halifax as a good place to live boosting the city from 131st last year to 1st in Canada in their annual ranking of best places to live across the country. Apparently poor old Burlington dropped from first to 35th because of the bad old pandemic. Sheesh. Now they have to discard all those digital placards and banners.

The labour market fared quite well in Halifax too. There were actually more people in the workforce in 2020 than in 2019 (although slightly fewer employed) and the unemployment rate, although higher than previous years was below average among CMAs.

Moving into 2021, Halifax needs to get back to being a magnet for immigrants. The number of permanent residents settling in the city in 2020 was down 55% due to the pandemic (IRCC data on PR admissions) compared to only a drop of 40% in Moncton. The population growth number above is based on the population on July 1 compared to the previous year, so it doesn’t pick up a lot of the Covid-19 impacts (for better or worse).

The city needs to ensure a steady supply of housing. The number of housing starts has been rising – up 40% since 2016 – but not keeping pace with population growth. This could erode one of Gotham’s advantages – relatively lower cost housing compared to the larger urban centres. Moncton actually takes centre stage on the podium in 2020 with 108 housing starts per 10,000 population – the most among all CMAs across the country adjusted for population size. However, this is ‘catch-up’ building as between 2016-2018 Moncton had well below average housing starts.

I would argue Halifax is having a great run. It may or may not be tied to hiring Moncton’s former City Manager, Jacques Dubé – correlation is not necessarily causation. Besides, Moncton has had a pretty good run itself in the past five years – just behind Gotham. Suffice to say there is more to Dubé than colorful bowties.

Atlantic Canada needs a prosperous Halifax.

As for Burlington? Keep a stiff upper lip. It’s likely the folks at MacLean’s will get bored and change their minds again next year.