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Metro Vancouver scores lowest in overall life satisfaction in Canada

A man in-line skates along the Stanley Park seawall past the downtown skyline as heavy rain falls in Vancouver, B.C., on Tuesday March 25, 2014. A report released by Statistics Canada on Monday indicates that on average, people in Metro Vancouver ranked their life satisfaction lower than any other metropolitan area in the country.

Darryl Dyck/The Globe and Mail

Every year, Vancouver takes top spots in international rankings of the most livable cities on the planet, and yet a new report suggests some Vancouverites aren't all that happy.

A report released by Statistics Canada on Monday indicates that on average, people in Metro Vancouver ranked their life satisfaction lower than any other metropolitan area in the country.

For years, Statistics Canada has been asking Canadians to rank their overall satisfaction with life on scale of zero to 10 – zero meaning very dissatisfied and 10 meaning very satisfied – but this is the first time the agency has made an official public release of this data.

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The survey data show that between 2009 and 2013, people in Metro Vancouver on average ranked their life satisfaction lower than any other metropolitan area in Canada, scoring below Toronto by a tiny fraction, at 7.8 compared to 7.81. Toronto was second-last.

The cities where people seem most satisfied are led by Saguenay, Que., with an 8.245 satisfaction ranking, followed by Trois-Rivières and St. John's.

Of Canada's major cities, only Quebec (fifth) and Ottawa (10th) are in the top 10.

Last August, The Economist declared Vancouver the most livable city in North America, as did Forbes Magazine in March, after the release of the 2015 Quality of Living survey by global consultancy firm Mercer.

However, one of the report's authors, John Helliwell of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research and the Vancouver School of Economics at the University of British Columbia, said the Statscan findings are a better measure for how people feel about life in Vancouver because of its large sample population (anywhere from 20,000 to 30,000 respondents in Vancouver).

"You're getting a very reliable estimate of the quality of life, assessed by people themselves," he said. In his view, most of the livability rankings that put Vancouver at or near the top are "a little bit about what are the views and the spas like in the five-stars hotels. It doesn't filter down to life on the streets for most people very much."

Dr. Helliwell said that while physical environment and access to green space have an impact on a population's happiness, other factors need to be considered, too, such as feelings of belonging in your neighbourhood and the level of trust in the people around you.

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Andrea Reimer, deputy mayor of Vancouver, and other councillors pointed out that a 7.8 ranking is not necessarily a low average ranking, even if it's the lowest in the country.

Ms. Reimer said that while she can only speak for her city, a lot has happened since the time the data were collected between 2009 and 2013.

"These research results reflect what I feel we already knew in those years," she said. "What I would be really interested in is since the Engaged City Task Force reported out, and we've been aggressively implementing their recommendations, are we moving the needle on these issues?"

The mayor's Engaged City Task Force was launched in 2012 with the goal of improving neighbourhood connectedness and engagement between citizens and city hall.

The Statscan findings will be presented at a happiness symposium in Vancouver on Tuesday where international researchers and community members will discuss ways of building happier communities.

Meik Wiking, CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Denmark, will share his organization's experience trying to quantify happiness in a town outside of Copenhagen.

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Mr. Wiking acknowledged the difficulty of defining, let alone measuring, happiness.

"There are many dimensions within happiness. We use the same term for different dimensions and different feelings," he said.

His study asked residents of Dragor, Denmark, more than 50 questions about their levels of satisfaction in various aspects of life, instead of the one question at the heart of Statscan's report. However, Mr. Wiking said that is still better than nothing.

"It's at least an indicator," he said.

"It's my first full day in Canada and Vancouver, so my perspective is limited," he said on Monday.

He said he was surprised to learn Vancouver had the lowest level of life satisfaction in the country.

"If this is the bottom level, I can't wait to see the other Canadian cities."

Respondents in 33 geographic regions were asked to measure their "life satisfaction" on a 10-point scale, with 10 being the most satisfied.

The areas with the highest satisfaction:

1. Saguenay, Que.

2. Trois-Rivières, Que.

3. St. John's, N.L.

4. Greater Sudbury, Ont.

5. Quebec

6. Saint John, N.B.

7. Sherbrooke, Que.

8. Thunder Bay, Ont.

9. Moncton, N.B.

10. Ottawa-Gatineau

The areas with the lowest:

24. Abbotsford-Mission, Ont.

25. Kitchener-Cambridge-Waterloo, Ont.

26. Peterborough, Ont.

27. VIctoria

28. Barrie, Ont.

29. Edmonton

30. Guelph, Ont.

31. Windsor, Ont.

32. Toronto

33. Vancouver

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