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What is the best Canadian city to live in, if you’re a woman?

Chateau Frontenac, Old Quebec city, Canada.


When you're a Canadian woman, all cities are not created equal.

In the country's capital, women, on average, get the biggest paycheques. They live the longest in Vancouver. They're the least likely to be poor in Calgary.

But, according to a new study of the 20 largest cities in Canada, the best place to be a woman is Quebec City. In fact, an analysis by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives suggests that the province of Quebec appears to be the most female-friendly part of the country, with three cities (Montreal ranks 4th, and Sherbrooke placed 8th) making it into the top 10. By that same measure, Alberta – with Calgary ranking 17th and Edmonton coming dead-last – would appear to be the least female-friendly.

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So how did Quebec City get top honours, and why did other places, such as Vancouver (13th place) fall short? The analysis by Kate McInturff, a senior researcher at the CCPA, uses Statistics Canada data to compare the gender gap in the country's 20 largest metropolitan areas, using measurements such as security, income, leadership and health.

Her conclusion: "The rising tide is not lifting all boats. We are making progress in some places but it's not making women's lives better across the board, and we need to pay more attention to where the gaps are."

Here are some key findings:

Work and Pay: In Quebec City, the gender income gap is relatively small, and women have roughly equal access to full-time work as men. (A similarly narrow wage gap applies to Ottawa-Gatineau, a finding the report credits to the high number of unionized public sector jobs.) Vancouver, by comparison has one of the widest wage gaps with women earning, on average, 30 per cent less than men. Edmonton comes last, with women earning just 60 per cent of the average male salary – a reality that the study credits to the high percentage of big-paying jobs in male-dominated industries such as the oil industry and construction. (Calgary also has one of the largest pay gaps in the country; the average female salary is $17,000 less than the male average.) A key factor in Quebec's gender-equity success, suggests McInturff, are the province's affordable child-care program and generous family leave, which help both men and women balance paid and unpaid work.

Politics: Only two cities on the list – Waterloo and Victoria – have more female than male councillors. Quebec City gets high marks for having near parity when it comes to the gender split on city councillors. But nationally overall, there are three men for every one women holding elected office at the city level. (This is only marginally better than the four-to-one gender ratio in provincial and federal politics.) In Calgary, women hold only two of 15 elected spots on council. But St. John's has the worst record of all: in the Newfoundland capital, there are zero woman at the council table.

The corner office: Women boast more post-secondary credentials than men in the majority of the cities studied (in the remainder, the two genders are about equal). But even in places such as Hamilton and Halifax where the employment gap is also narrow, men are far more likely to be top managers. In Hamilton, for instance, 79 per cent senior management positions are held by men. Last place in this category, however, goes to Sherbrooke, where men have 82 per cent of senior positions. "The gap for women has really persisted," says McInturff, "and to me that shows, our ideas about what kind of roles women should occupy in the public sphere haven't kept pace with the shift in ideas about education and other representation."

Stress: Across the country, women report higher levels of stress than men – and the most stressed-out of all live in Kitchener-Cambridge-Waterloo. (The region also scored last in economic well-being, with a big income gap, and relatively high poverty rate for women.) Oshawa claims the largest gender gap, however; there, women's reported rates double their male counterparts. Quebec City is the outlier – it's the only city where men report higher levels of stress than women.

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Poverty: In most cities, women are more likely to find themselves living in poverty than men. But there are some notable exceptions: in Toronto, poverty rates by gender are virtually equal. In Hamilton, where traditionally male occupations such as the auto industry have taken a hit, more men are living in poverty than women.

Violence: Quebec City is, once again, strong in this category, with the lowest rate of police-reported sexual and domestic violence of all the cities. (Toronto also has lower than average rates.) By comparison, Regina has the highest rate of domestic violence, while Edmonton has about the highest rates of sexual assault. But while there is other evidence that Quebec has made progress in this area, the phrase "police reported" is key. McInturff points out that it would take further analysis to know whether Regina's police force is simply doing a good job encouraging women to come forward when they are assaulted.

Finally, as McInturff points out in the report, the city-specific data was not detailed enough to study women by race or education or marital status. That raises an important follow-up question for an urban nation: If a city's "rising tide" doesn't lift both genders equally, how might it also create different fortunes between privileged and disadvantaged women?

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