Lack of local opportunity a backdrop to tight race
Three parties have a chance of winning in riding facing high unemployment rates
It’s been decades since Scarborough’s Golden Mile hummed to the sound of busy industry.
Starting in the 1950s, the stretch of Eglinton Ave. between Birchmount Rd. and Pharmacy Ave. was a hotbed of manufacturing. Major international corporations like Thermos, John Inglis and General Motors set up plants there, attracted by cheap land and low tax rates.
The Golden Mile became such a beacon of Canadian manufacturing that Queen Elizabeth herself paid a visit in 1959.
But all the pomp and most of the manufacturing is just a memory. The plants started to shut down in the 1980s and now they’ve been replaced with big box retail stores and accompanying low-wage, part-time, precarious jobs.
That lack of economic opportunity has become a defining characteristic of the riding of Scarborough Southwest, which should be a hotly contested battleground in the Oct. 19 election.
The numbers tell a grim tale. According to the most recent National Household Survey in 2011, the unemployment rate was more than two points higher than the citywide rate. The average individual income was 21-per-cent lower than the rest of Toronto.
Not only are there few jobs that pay well, says David Meyers, manager of community development at Birchmount Bluffs Neighbourhood Centre, there’s a dearth of training programs to help put youth on a career path. Recent immigrants, who make up nearly half the riding’s population, are also being shut out, even if they’re skilled.
“We have a lot of newcomers here who are foreign professionals,” including doctors and engineers, he said. “So a big challenge for them is just being able to break into the fields they were in before they came to the country. A lot of people are really looking at entry-level jobs that are not in their field.”
Residents who do find work in entry-level positions are often asked to cover night shifts or weekends, according to Phil Richards, manager at the Career Foundation, a non-profit employment service. “Especially if they have young children or families, they run into the problems of how they can go to work and have somebody to still look after their kids.”
If the last campaign is any indication, the race in Scarborough Southwest will be tight. In 2011, only six points separated the winner, the NDP’s Dan Harris, from the third- place Conservative challenger.
This year’s Conservative candidate, Roshan Nallaratnam, argues that his party’s sound management of the economy is exactly what Scarborough Southwest needs to make a comeback.
“With a $5-billion surplus so far this year, a Conservative government will continue pursuing a lowtax, balanced budget plan to create more jobs for Scarborough residents,” he told the Star in an email.
Harris counters that the NDP’s $15a-day national child-care scheme would allow more parents to enter the labour force, and its proposed tax credit for businesses that invest in innovative technology would entice modern manufacturing back to the area.
“All these things are going to help create jobs,” he said.
Harris and Nallaratnam have stiff competition in Liberal candidate Bill Blair, the former police chief who boasts name recognition so strong it could be enough to trump any policies his opponents put forward. A recent Forum poll put him in a statistical tie for first place with Harris.
Blair’s campaign did not make him available for comment for this article.
Although it lacks employment opportunities, Scarborough Southwest is better served by transit than much of Scarborough. It’s home to three stops on the BloorDanforth subway line, which is to be extended with construction beginning in 2018.
Harris vocally opposed the subway extension in favour of an LRT plan, although the NDP has since pledged not to meddle in transit projects that are already approved.
Harris says he doesn’t believe his LRT stance will hurt his re-election chances. “I’m not hearing too many people talking about the Scarborough subway these days,” he said.
Conservative candidate Roshan Nallaratnam, left, and Green party candidate Tommy Taylor.
Liberal candidate Bill Blair, left, and NDP candidate Dan Harris.