Our city has been on the losing end of federal policy for a long, long time. The Conservative government’s latest budget continues that losing streak and suggests that help from this federal government won’t come voluntarily and won’t come soon. The cover pages promise jobs, growth and long-term prosperity but the pages in between take us further down the path we have travelled for more than a generation.
And make no mistake, that path is downward.
Toronto has, for a long time, been known as a city of neighbourhoods. It was an apt description — at one time — of a Toronto largely made up of mixed-income areas. In 1970, two-thirds of Toronto’s neighbourhoods were middle income. In just over a generation, our city of neighbourhoods has become, as David Hulchanski describes in his Three Cities study, “a city of disparities.” The middle has been, and continues to be, hollowed out. If we continue down this path, less than 10 percent of our neighbourhoods will be middle income in just a decade or so.
There are a number of factors responsible for this emergent, polarized Toronto. In large part, it’s the result of a dramatic change in the quality of jobs available to Torontonians. Rising oil prices and a higher dollar have resulted in the massive loss of well-paying manufacturing jobs in the Toronto area, in favour of jobs in the oil sands. The budget’s promise to expedite and simplify environmental review processes — and explicitly oil and gas pipeline projects — will only hasten the demise of Toronto’s manufacturing base.
Those manufacturing jobs not lost to “Dutch Disease” — the decline in the manufacturing sector caused by increased development of natural resources — have been lost to bilateral trade agreements with low wage economies — a trading policy pursued since Brian Mulroney was prime minister. The budget promises an even more vigorous pursuit of such trade agreements.
In place of good jobs are jobs that all too often leave workers in poverty. According to a recent Metcalf Foundation study, as of 2005 nearly one in 10 workers in our city was living in poverty. But too many more can’t find work — especially Toronto’s youth with an unemployment rate creeping up on 20 percent.
And, finally and most offensively, it’s into such a labour market that this government proposes to force Toronto’s seniors. With this budget, the government has at last decoded for us the prime minister’s remarks in Switzerland in January about transforming our pension system. Effective 2023, all Canadians not yet 65 years old can anticipate having to work longer before receiving their Old Age Security and corresponding Guaranteed Income Supplement.
And yet, we are a city that awaits a chance to be great. We await a federal government that finally understands that a city must be organized and its resources must be marshalled for the benefit of all of us who share in this space. None of us succeed, much less thrive, as citizens of Toronto if we don’t build a city that serves us all well. With this federal budget, we are forced to wait longer for Toronto to be the city it can be. In the interim, Toronto remains a city of great potential.