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.

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