Quebec and Ontario are the two largest and most populous eastern provinces in Canada. They share a border with one another and each of them shares a border with the United States to the south. Quebec City and Montreal are the two largest cities in the province of Quebec. Toronto and Ottawa are the two largest cities in the province of Ontario. So, is there a financial advantage to living in one or the other?
Is it cheaper to live in Quebec or Ontario? Because both provinces are so large, and each has a great deal of internal diversity in the cost of living and other conditions, it can be hard to make general statements about some factors. At the same time, the capital city of Ottawa is located near the border between these two provinces, and many people wonder which side of the border to choose.
Trying to choose between Thunder Bay, Ontario, and Sherbrooke, Quebec is a lot different than trying to choose between Ottawa and its suburbs on the Ontario side or Gatineau on the Quebec side. So, in this article, we’ll focus on a comparison of the cost of living within a commutable distance of the capital. Some of the metrics will apply to any area of one province or the other, while some will only be helpful to a comparison in that specific area.
Nine Factors to Consider About the Cost of Living in Quebec and Ontario
The most common reason for people to do a comparison of the cost of living in Quebec and Ontario is that they are looking at relocating to the Ottawa area for school, work, or some other opportunity. That’s because Ottawa sits so close to the border between the two provinces that it is possible to live on either side of the line and still have a reasonable commute to the jobs, educational opportunities, and culture of the capital city.
Doing a thorough comparison needs to take account of your personal circumstances. It will make a big difference in the final analysis if you are looking to rent an apartment rather than buy a house or if you are single, married, a parent, or not. Your income level will also factor into the analysis. Unfortunately, getting the right answer for you isn’t as simple or straightforward as comparing listing prices on houses or rental rates per square foot.
There are also some things to consider that are, strictly speaking, outside of the realm of finances. There are cultural, linguistic, and social differences between the two provinces that influence the overall quality of life that you’ll enjoy.
While these are more subjective and harder to rank as better or worse, they are things that you should be aware of and factor in your decision. At the end of the day, whether it’s worth it to save a few bucks on the cost of living might come down to what you gain or lose in quality of life as a result of your choice.
What Are the Most Important Factors to Consider About Cost of Living Near Ottawa?
As we said above, you’ll need to do more digging that a quick scan of the real estate pages that cover the areas on either side of the border between Quebec and Ontario to get the information that you need to make the best decision for you.
So that we can be both thorough and succinct in our guide to doing a comparison for yourself, we’ll make certain assumptions about income levels and housing preferences. That will allow us to give specific examples without getting bogged down. All you’ll have to do is apply the particulars to your own situation to get the information that you need to decide what’s right for you.
We will look at the following factors to help you decide whether you’ll save more money living on the Quebec or Ontario side of the line in the area that is commutable to downtown Ottawa:
- Income Tax
- Housing Prices/Resale Values
- Transportation Costs
- Moving/Relocation Costs
- Health Care
- Child Care
For the purposes of our analysis, we’ll assume an income of $75,000 with no deductions for dependents, education, or other considerations.
There is a considerable difference in the amount of income tax that you’ll pay if you choose Quebec over Ontario. One analysis reported the following figures for an annual income of $75,000. In Ontario, you will pay $16,561 in income taxes, while in Quebec, you would pay $20,893 for the same income. That amounts to a more than $350 per month difference. The exact figures for your situation could vary depending on your income, your deductions, and other factors.
Of course, how much of your income you get to keep is just one of the factors that you need to consider. It is just as important to look at what the basic essentials of life will cost you and to know whether there are advantages to living in one province or the other.
Housing Prices and Resale Values
There are just no two ways about it—you’ll get a lot more house for a lot less money on the Quebec side of the border. If you’re looking for a house for the family you have or the family you intend to have; the difference can be as much as 50-100%. This can translate to hundreds of thousands of dollars in purchase cost and can have a significant impact on monthly mortgage payments once interest is factored in.
The studies that we looked at suggested that a 2,800 square foot house with four bedrooms, 2 baths, four additional rooms, a pool, and a hot tub on a half-acre lot will cost you around $300,000 on the Quebec side of the border.
When you factor in property taxes and income taxes, that amounts to a mortgage payment of approximately $900/month. By comparison, a similar set up on the Ontario side of the border would cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $650,000, and the monthly mortgage payment would double.
The same studied reported that resale percentages are nearly identical on either side of the line. The $300,000 home that they looked at on the Quebec side had increased in value by more than $75,000 in just a few years. It seems impossible when you recognize that the commute into downtown Ottawa is typically longer from the suburbs on the Ontario side than it is from the Gatineau area.
Housing isn’t the only thing that is more expensive on the Ontario side of the border. Whether you commute by car or use public transportation, getting around will cost you more if you’re moving around Ontario.
One individual reported that they paid $230 for a license plate and $400 per year for car insurance on the Quebec side of the border. By comparison, the estimated that they would have had to pay next to nothing for a plate in Ontario but that their insurance costs would have gone up to $1300 per year.
There are two city bus services operating in the capital region. OC Transpo takes care of things on the Ontario side, and a monthly pass for an adult rider costs $113.75. The Société de Transport de l’Outaouais is responsible for moving people on the Quebec side. A monthly adult pass with them runs $99.00. That’s a nearly $300 difference over the course of a year.
Something that many homebuyers don’t think about when they are applying for a loan is all of the fees and taxes that fall under the umbrella of closing costs. The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation estimates that these fees can amount to anywhere from 1.5% to 4% of the total purchase price.
Fortunately, the taxes and fees are roughly equal, whether you’re purchasing in Ontario or Quebec. In Quebec, these fees are known as “welcome taxes,” while in Ontario, they are referred to as “land transfer taxes.”
Health Care and Insurance
Whether you live on the Quebec side or the Ontario side of the border, you will have access to hospitals in both provinces. There is some anecdotal evidence on the internet that suggests the hospitals on the Quebec side have longer wait times and more issues with the quality of care provided. But there are just as many stories that suggest that you can get the care you need by working between the specialists and experts on either side of the border.
Since your healthcare costs are fairly consistent in either province, this factor seems to come down to whether your individual situation demands a certain level of access to particular specialists. If that is something that you need to consider in your decision-making process, you need to do enough digging to get the details it takes to make an informed decision.
Unlike certain provinces, Alberta, for example, new residents of Canada, will not be eligible for first-day health coverage in Ontario or Quebec.
You’ll pay a lot less for water and electricity if you live on the Quebec side of the border. One study reported that electricity costs $.0855/KWH in Quebec compared to $.123/KWH on the Ontario side. That is a difference of almost 50%.
The big difference seems to be due to Quebec’s advantage in developing and deploying a solid and reliable hydro-electric plan. You won’t pay for municipal water service anywhere in the province of Quebec, so the savings on utilities will add up year-over-year.
If you’re beginning to sense a theme running through the factors that we’re analyzing, you should know that you’re not imagining things. Yes, you will pay more in income taxes on the Quebec side of the border—but there are corresponding savings on nearly everything that is both essential to an individual household and simultaneously a public good. This is most apparent when you compare the categories of education and child care.
University education in Quebec is considerably less expensive than a comparable course of study in Ontario. Quebec’s subsidization of post-secondary education means that individuals will save more than 25% on university coursework over their counterparts in Ontario.
Child care is another “public good” resource that many people need to factor into their overall cost of living. Not only are the base rates that you can expect to pay for child care nearly double on the Ontario side, but you’ll also be missing out on the provincial subsidization that you could get in Quebec.
The numbers that we looked at indicate that you’ll pay $45/day for daycare in Ontario. Compare this to $25/day in Quebec. Then consider that a family with a household income of $125,000/year is eligible for subsidies in Quebec that bring the final cost down to a mere $7/day.
Exceptions To The Rule
Income taxes are higher in Quebec, but there are financial advantages to living on that side of the border on nearly every factor that we analyzed. The cost of purchasing a home or renting an apartment is lower on the Quebec side. Transportation, health care, utilities, and education costs are all either lower on the Quebec side or equivalent to the costs on the Ontario side.
At the end of the day, our analysis concluded that for an individual making $75,000 per year, there would be savings in excess of $10,000 per year that would come with the choice to live on the Quebec side of the line.
However, since taxes plays such a big factor in our analysis, we need to point out that there is a point at which an individual’s income level would result in a tax burden that would make it more expensive for them to live on the Quebec side.
All of the particulars would depend on your own individual tax situation, but as a general example, an individual making more than $150,000 per year would pay roughly $7,000 more in taxes on the Quebec side. That amount of taxes is edging toward the break-even point, and as incomes go up, so do tax liabilities.
Of course, there is more to life than money, and there are other things that you should take account of when you’re making a decision about where to live. Saving money is great, but so is enjoying a high standard of living. Quality of life is subjective, so it is hard to give general advice about where a person should live. But there are some things that are important to know before you choose.
The cultural divide between Quebec and the rest of Canada isn’t as extreme as it was a generation ago. Still, it’s not non-existent, and you should be aware of it and prepared for it if you chose to live on the Quebec side of the border. If you aren’t enculturated to the Francophone way of doing things, you might experience a certain coldness or stand-offish-ness that a Quebecois moving to Ontario would not.
People say that it is possible to get by in Quebec without a conversational fluency in French. The people we’ve talked to say that this is especially true in the big cities and close to the southern border of the province. While this might be true, we have to wonder why anyone would even want to try. If you’re going to live in Quebec, you should plan on speaking French as much as possible and to the best of your ability.
Scenery and Nightlife
It’s hard to make sweeping generalizations about either province’s natural beauty, architecture, cuisine, entertainment, or recreation. Ottawa, Toronto, Montreal, and Quebec City are all global cities with global cultures. If you prefer a more rural setting, you can get it in either province. If you enjoy outdoor activities, living close to Ottawa would give you equal access to opportunities in both provinces.
Quality of Life
It’s hard to define what “quality of life” is, much less sum it up in a few succinct sentences. There are differences between living on one side of the border and living on the other. In Quebec, there is more of an emphasis on the social safety net, provision of services, and the public good. On the Ontario side, there is a more laissez-faire approach to social services and individual opportunities. If one or the other sounds better to you, then you should choose accordingly.
There’s a lot more to consider when you’re looking for a place to live than the real estate market. You have to have more than a roof over your head to have a quality of life that makes living enjoyable. Once you factor in all of the things that it takes to get through the day-to-day over the course of a year, there are some major cost considerations that go into choosing whether you want to live in Ontario or Quebec.
If you follow the guide that is provided in this article, you should have an easy time figuring out the bottom line for your individual situation.