Toronto’s economy roars while rest hollows out
Ontario’s economy is ticking over nicely, the province’s financial accountability office says, but most of the benefits are going to Toronto.
Last year, Greater Toronto added 69,700 jobs and central Ontario (which includes the tech powerhouse of Waterloo) added 57,200, according to the independent budget watchdog at Queen’s Park.
But everywhere else — eastern, northern and southwestern Ontario, combined — added just 1,600 jobs.
This is a bit of bad news in a report released Wednesday that’s overall upbeat. The province saw the most jobs created in any year since 2003 and its lowest unemployment rate (six per cent) since 2000.
Long-term unemployment is down. The number of people with precarious jobs is stable. The wage gap between men and women is, too — not improving, but not getting worse. Fewer young people are working, continuing a 25-year trend, but more of them are in school.
Zoom in, though, and it’s clear you’d much rather be looking for work in Toronto than anywhere else.
Between 2007 and 2017, southwestern Ontario lost 21,900 jobs, according to Statistics Canada data the FAO crunched. Northern Ontario lost 20,800.
Ten years of population growth, trade, economic-development work by all governments, and now fewer people are employed in those big swaths of the province.
Eastern Ontario has gained 30,500 jobs in 10 years, though employment there peaked in 2012 and has been stagnant since.
Greater Toronto, meanwhile, has added jobs every year since the recession, for a total of 465,500 over 10 years. Central Ontario has added 129,300. That’s a big crescent of the farthest reaches of the GO transit network, from Niagara to Kitchener to Barrie to the Kawarthas.
The FAO’s stats are similar to ones the Fraser Institute put together in 2016. A Liberal government can easily dismiss the conservative think-tank as axe-grinders. The FAO, not so much.
“These findings are exactly why we took historic action to create more opportunity and security for workers with a plan for fairer workplaces and better jobs,” Economic Development Minister Steven Del Duca said. “A plan to raise the minimum wage, make university and college tuition free for middle and low income students and to provide free prescription drugs for everyone under the age of 25.”
The Liberals started focusing on this stuff after Donald Trump was elected, hoping to head off some of the hopelessness and economic anger that fuelled his candidacy for president. They want to make some of life’s keep-you-up-at-night expenses easier to cope with even if you can’t count on a steady job. But these measures take on the scariness of unemployment, not the problem of jobs lost to automation, consolidation and offshoring.
The Progressive Conservatives blame Liberal policies. “Whether it’s skyrocketing hydro rates, exorbitant taxes and fees, or a politically motivated, overnight hike to the minimum wage, Ontario is no longer open for business under the Wynne Liberals,” their finance critic Lisa MacLeod said.
It’s not as if we have a model to follow. Kansas tried fierce tax cuts and ended up with a shredded state budget and a weak economy. Republican legislators revolted and overrode their own governor, who quit. Wisconsin has been doing the same thing with better results, but not markedly better than those in other states that haven’t cut.
Ontario’s overall record under the activist Liberals is better but with these very big regional disparities that aren’t shrinking. If you live in a city and wonder why some of your fellow Ontarians are so furious with the Liberals, this is it.