The Greater Victoria region is outperforming comparable cities in areas such as employment and the environment but still has room to improve when it comes to housing, transportation infrastructure and diversity.
On Thursday, May 21, the 2020 South Island Prosperity Index launched providing a snapshot of where Greater Victoria is positioned compared to similar cities in Canada and around the world. The index features data on 33 different indicators that are part of three different themes: economic vibrancy, equity and inclusion and environmental prosperity.
In one example Greater Victoria was compared to five Canadian peer regions – Vancouver, Halifax, Ottawa-Gatineau, Kelowna and Kitchener-Cambridge-Waterloo – and four international regions – Oslo, Norway; Wellington, New Zealand; Boulder, Colo.; and Greater Seattle, Wash.
Key findings in the index’s summary show Greater Victoria is outperforming its peer cities in areas related to employment. The region has a lower unemployment rate for both general and Indigenous populations, sitting at 3.4 per cent for 2020. The average unemployment rate for Canadian peer cities is 4.9 per cent and 3.6 per cent for international peer cities.
Alex Welch, vice president for strategy and operations at BDO Canada – an advisory and accounting firm that partnered on producing this report – says the low unemployment rate is generally good but not for everyone, particularly employers struggling to find employees with the right skills.
The Greater Victoria region also has a higher number of education degrees per 100,000 people and a higher concentration of Indigenous businesses relative to the national average.
Peer cities are outperforming the region when it comes to real GDP per capita. In Victoria, the GDP per capita is $46,865. The average for Canadian peer cities is $59,517 and for international peer cities is $93,841.
“A community with a larger portion of retirees is going to show up with a lower GDP per capita,” Welch notes.
In the Equity and Inclusion category, the Greater Victoria region still has work to do when it comes to things such as transportation and rental vacancies and rates. According to the report, the region has low apartment vacancy rates which shows it is a popular place to live but that new rentals need to be built quickly to keep up with demand. Low vacancy rates have also led to an increase in apartment rental prices at a rate greater than peer cities.
While residents in Greater Victoria face an average commute time of 22 minutes – which is low compared to peer cities – the region is lacking in transportation infrastructure systems. The report says this indicates the region’s transportation options are adequate for some areas at the current population but, due to a projected increase in population growth, transportation infrastructure will become more important.
The homeless population in Greater Victoria is almost double compared to peer cities which could be a reflection of higher costs of shelter and other factors like mild weather, the report says.
Greater Victoria is also less diverse than its peer cities across Canada. The percentage of foreign-born individuals in the region is 18 per cent where as the percentage is 19 per cent in Canadian peer cities and 20 per cent in international peer cities. The report says Greater Victoria does have more than 17,000 Indigenous peoples of which 9,000 are First Nations, representing four per cent of the region’s population compared to three per cent for Canadian peer regions and two per cent for international peers.
When it comes to the environment, Greater Victoria is doing great, as it supports environmental sustainable practices more than Canadian peer cities.
“Victoria does well here, it’s why people want to visit and retire here but we need to make sure we can improve over time and not fall behind,” Welch says.
More energy is sourced from renewable sources compared to Canadian peer regions. Less greenhouse gases are expelled in Greater Victoria, less water is consumed per capita and there are a greater number of public transport trips per capita per year compared to all if its peer cities except Oslo.
“[Greater Victoria] can learn from Oslo on how to become one of the best metro regions globally when it comes to commuting to work by public transit, walking or cycling,” the report says.
The 2020 South Island Prosperity Index is online at southislandprosperity.ca/prosperity-index/.