Toronto’s econ­omy roars while rest hol­lows out

Kingston Whig-Standard - - OPINION - DAVID REEVELY dreevely@post­media.com

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.

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