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Steve Lafleur

Don’t Panic Over Crime Statistics

Western Canadian cities once again dominated the Maclean’s Most Dangerous Cities list. But while the rankings are useful for policy makers, they need to be taken with a grain of salt. Despite media hype, Canada's cities are safe.The most visible metric on which to judge a city's safety is the homicide rate. While it is by no means the only relevant metric, it is easily comparable across national boundaries (as opposed to a crime severity index), and is rarely under-reported as are some other violent crime statistics.What may surprise some is that the Canadian city with the highest homicide rate in 2010 was Prince George, BC, with a rate of 9.5 per 100,000 residents. Of course, that adds up to only seven victims. Two were committed by a serial killer, which amounts to a tragic anomaly. Much of the rest is attributable to turf wars between gangs—a cyclical phenomenon beyond the control of police, and which rarely affects the general population.Bigger Western cities such as Edmonton (3.1), Regina (4.0), Saskatoon (4.4), Winnipeg (3.2), and Victoria (2.9) had among the highest homicide rates of Canadian cities in 2010. While high by Canadian standards, comparing to US cities (2009) like Newark, New Jersey (28.7), Detroit (40), Baltimore (37.3), St. Louis (40.3), and New Orleans (51.7) offers some perspective. Safer big Canadian cities such as Toronto (2.2), Ottawa (1.5), Vancouver (1.8), and Montreal (1.9) compare favourably with extremely safe American cities such as Seattle (3.7),  Portland, Oregon (3.4), and San Jose (2.9). Only 4 American cities over 100,000 had lower homicide rates than Toronto, none lower than Ottawa's.Given the 24 hour news cycle, it is understandable that people think of cities as dangerous. For instance, Edmonton, had nearly one homicide per week in 2011 (47). If each homicide story is in the news… Read More

The success of Canada’s immigration policies

The 2011 census has re-affirmed several of the narratives about Canadian demographics that have dominated headlines: our aging population, the increasing urbanization of the country, and the growth of the West are among the highlights. Some have also recognized arguably the most important story that can be extrapolated from the data: the success of targeted immigration policies in revitalizing communities.Immigrants coming to Canada have disproportionately settled in Toronto, Montreal, or Vancouver. The large influx of immigrants to these cities isn't a bad thing. Indeed, it has been a very good thing. The trouble is that much of the rest of the country has failed to attract enough immigrants to make up for their particular demographic problems.This began to change in 1998 when the federal government began introducing the Provincial Immigrant Nominee programs. There are various categories, but the programs are focused on bringing in foreign workers who already have job offers. The census underscored the success of the nominee program in two regions not thought of as immigration hotbeds: the Prairies (outside of Alberta), and Atlantic Canada.The demographic challenges facing Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Atlantic Canada are very different. Saskatchewan has historically been a breeding ground for future Albertans. But with courageous provincial government reforms during the 90s, strong demand for the provinces resources -- particularly potash -- and a government with a pro-growth agenda, the province is now desperate for workers.A dire labour shortage is the only foreseeable brake on the provinces strong growth. A report from the Saskatchewan Labour Commission written in 2009 found that the province would need 120,000 new workers by 2020. That is in a province of just over one million.The Saskatchewan Immigrant nominee program intake level has been steadily increased to help meet this demand. The number of immigrants to Saskatchewan in 2012 is expected to be roughly 12,500 --… Read More

“Smart Growth” kills growth

Over the course of the last 40 years, governments have attempted to combat urban sprawl with restrictive land use policies, collectively known as “Smart Growth.” The core of the approach is to orient land use policy toward compact neighbourhoods with a mixture of commercial and residential housing. But while these types of neighbourhoods are often desirable, a report recently authored by Wendell Cox for the Frontier Centre for Public Policy demonstrates that Smart Growth policies have undermined housing affordability. The housing markets with the most stringent land use regulations saw housing prices increase four times as fast as housing in less restrictive markets. This helped to fuel the mortgage crisis from which the global economy has yet to recover.Smart Growth policies gained traction due to the urban flight that began in the 60s. The massive expansion of suburbia was accompanied by an expansion of automobile ownership, which has raised the ire of environmentalists. Meanwhile, as cities hollowed out, their infrastructure decayed, and crime rates spiked. The solution devised by many urbanists was to force people back to the city. Some cities such as Ottawa and Portland, Oregon, created urban growth boundaries in the attempt to curb sprawl and encourage dense development within the cities. Toronto recently followed suit. Unfortunately, attempts to crack down on sprawl have done little more than drive up home values.Regardless of one's lifestyle preferences, it is hard to ignore the fact that the majority of people in North America would wish to purchase a single dwelling house at some point in their lives. Attempts to crack down on sprawl have simply pushed people out further, which is why the City of Toronto proper is the slowest growing city in the GTA. People and businesses have migrated to cities such as Barrie and Vaughan, which are far… Read More

Control rent: Destroy our cities

The scourge of rent control was vanquished in Saskatchewan by the NDP during the 1990s. Unfortunately, the party is now promising to implement “second generation rent control.” While not as disastrous as the former rent control regime, it would merely replace one type of rent volatility with another.Rent control has been one of the greatest public policy failures of the last hundred years. Swedish economist Assar Lindbeck famously wrote that "next to bombing, rent control seems in many cases to be the most efficient technique so far known for destroying cities." Preventing landlords from charging market rate rents leads them to skimp on repairs and maintenance. It also removes the incentive for construction of new units. This leads to an under-supply of rental units, which can only be corrected in the long run by rationing or higher prices. The evidence against the effectiveness of rent control is so strong that in a survey of 464 economists, over 93% agreed that “a ceiling on rents reduces the quantity and quality of housing available.”Many policy analysts have struggled to find a way to marry the stability of rent control for existing tenants with the ability of the market to supply new units, leading to the creation of second generation rent controls. In the variant advocated by the NDP the controls don't apply to new tenants, but allows for exceptions to ensure that landlords can recover certain cost increases, such as the cost of performing maintenance and upgrades. Rather than trying to dictate the overall rental price level, the central aim is to eliminate “gouging.”To figure out why second generation rent control fails, it is key to understand the landlords' perspective. If annual rent increases on existing tenants are limited, how will this affect rental rates? Since landlords have no way of knowing… Read More