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Jack Knox: We hard-up Victorians know all about the price of love

May 27 2012

Victoria batted her eyelashes, leaned across the table, flashed that heart melting smile: "Tell me again."

"You're the best city in Canada," I said.

"The hottest?"

"No, Kamloops is the hottest, with an average summer temperature of 26.94 degrees. But you're the most desirable."

"Really?"

"You know you are. You just like to hear people say it."

"Talk, talk, talk," Victoria pouted. "Prove that you love me the most."

In response, I opened my wallet: it was empty. "Spent every dime on you, babe," I said. "Satisfied?"

Victoria looked in the mirror, fell head over heels all over again.

Victoria really is the most desirable city in Canada, and now we have the evidence: we're broke.

A study soon to be published in the Canadian Journal of Economics says the City of Gardens offers the best quality of life in the country.

The proof, says the paper's lead author, is our willingness to sacrifice to live here.

"Canadians seem to be willing to pay more to live in Victoria than in any other city," says David Albouy. "People will give up 17 per cent of their total income to live in Victoria."

That's what makes us No. 1 in the land, followed by three other B.C. cities, Vancouver, Kelowna and Abbotsford (Abbotsford? "Come for the commute, stay for the gang activity"). We're happy to pay a sunshine tax, choosing to dwell here even if it means a higher cost of living and lower wages.

Albouy says this while on the phone from Ann Arbor, where he is an assistant professor of economics at the University of Michigan.

(Why was it left to a U.S.based academic to rank Canada's cities? Presumably because he is safe from Stephen Harper's War on Science and the $50 bounty being paid for the pelt of any researcher turned in at your local post office.)

The paper, "Quality of Life, Firm Productivity, and the Value of Amenities Across Canadian Cities," used house prices, wages and taxes to determine the ratings. It is all based on mathematical formulae, not opinion. Co-authored by Casey Warman of Queen's University and Fernando Leibovici of New York University, the study is crammed with the kind of arcane hieroglyphics normally associated with Sheldon Cooper's white board on The Big Bang Theory.

Nonetheless, the mathbased findings mirrored those of surveys that rate cities based on popular opinion. Climate appears to be the biggest factor for Canadians, followed by culture, then access to health and education, says Albouy.

He admits being sent gaga by Victoria's good looks on his one brief visit to the city, in which he landed in the Inner Harbour on a float plane. "That was a breathtaking experience."

"But it's not just the natural beauty," he hastens to add. Victoria's culture is important: winding streets of heritage homes, Chinatown, great restaurants, an arts scene that punches above its weight.

Vancouverites might not like coming second, might sniff at us as being a tad quiet and provincial while gushing about their own best bits - Stanley Park, Kitsilano, Granville Island - but tend to ignore the drabber, more traffic-congested, trigger-happy parts of Toronto-By-The-Sea.

Albouy also notes that Victoria edged out Vancouver partly because, even though both of us have housing prices high enough to make Donald Trump choke on his caviar, Vancouverites tend to earn more money than we do. In fact, the study found that while Victoria's housing costs are 46 per cent above the national average, our wages are four per cent below.

That means we have less money to spend on material goods. It's a trade-off. When you buy a house in Victoria, you're choosing to pay for the weather, the view, the lack of gang hits instead. "What you're really buying more of is these cultural and natural amenities," Albouy says.

"In a sense, it represents a more sustainable way of living."

Yep, that's what we think of when driving our 1985 Chevettes to the grocery store, hoping to cash in on the two-for-one special on gruel: this sure is sustainable. Ha, ha, those poor people in Sudbury with their new shoes and colour televisions, sucks to be them.

But then Albouy asks the question we all ask ourselves: "Would you really want to live somewhere else?"

jknox@timescolonist.com

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