November 11, 2006
I weep for Toronto, as do many in Toronto. High taxes are driving head offices to Calgary, and back-office jobs to the suburbs. Our mayor is in the pockets of the unions, and corruption pockmarks city hall. While cities elsewhere have developed glorious waterfronts, ours remains a backwater. When ambitious institutions like the Art Gallery of Ontario commission architects the likes of Frank Gehry to work their magic, community activists scoff at their designs and, through regulatory powers, force on us their own banal tastes.
But mostly, I weep tears of joy. Toronto has never been more vibrant, more successful, more affluent, more interesting, more powerful or more promising. The city faces no crises, real or manufactured – so remote is controversy that, although we are at the end of a municipal election campaign, not one issue of any note has surfaced. The city is so content that we are about to re-elect a mayor with low approval ratings, and by default, in a largely uncontested race. This is a city that seems to do almost everything wrong and yet, at the same time, succeeds.
Take jobs, the issue that draws the most hand-wringing. Like many, I deplore high-tax policies that drive jobs away. Yet although Toronto’s employment record has its ups and downs, the city is by no stretch in a downward job-loss spiral. To the contrary, Toronto has added about 100,000 jobs in the last decade – an increase of almost 10%. Although the city attracts a huge number of startups – almost 40% of city businesses first opened their doors within the last five years – the average longevity of businesses has been rising, and now approaches 13 years.
Neither is the city’s downtown suffering. It has been growing its jobs in the same proportion as the rest of the city, and accounts for about 400,000 jobs. Toronto’s downtown not only accounts for more than 30% of all Toronto jobs, it accounts for more jobs than exist in any of the Maritime provinces, and rivals the total number of jobs in the provinces of Manitoba or Saskatchewan.
Toronto’s downtown, one of North America’s densest, is no conventional CBD – a central business district populated by day and abandoned by night. Toronto’s downtown is an entertainment complex, hosting the English-speaking world’s third-largest theatre district, after New York and London, and two major sports arenas for professional hockey, baseball, football and basketball. And most of all, downtown Toronto is a site of rapid residential development, a vast home-making machine for the hundreds of thousands of newcomers who long to live there, and are willing to pay the premium to do so. Those unable to live downtown strive to live near it, causing Toronto to burst at the seams in rapid expansion. Now the continent’s fourth-largest metropolitan area, Toronto’s metropolitan area could soon overtake that of Chicago, the continent’s third-largest.
The driver of metropolitan Toronto’s expansion, and the explanation for Toronto’s success, is immigration. Metropolitan Toronto is the world’s most ethnically and culturally diverse area and the destination for about half of the immigrants who come to Canada. More Torontonians speak either Tagalog, Tamil, Spanish, Cantonese, Mandarin, Punjabi, Portuguese, Italian or Polish than live in Greater Charlottetown, and almost as many speak Urdu or French. More than half of the city of Toronto’s population was born outside Canada without any immigrant group dominating – Mainland Chinese, the single largest in the city, accounts for fewer than 5% of the city’s population. As long as immigrants keep making Toronto their home, Toronto will continue to prosper. The rising tide of immigrants lifts all boats.
Almost everyone wins in this buoyant economy, but two winners above all stand out: Toronto’s Mayor, David Miller, and the unions, parties who made a shrewd bargain with each other. Not only would they give each other unreserved support, but, to pay for the union members’ hefty wage hikes and to keep union coffers full, they would quietly welcome the development that pays the bills.
While far from ideal, the bargain serves the city. Toronto’s rapid growth cloaks the errors, pays for the mistakes, maintains Toronto’s dominant position and gives potential political opponents little to vent about. And it re-elects mayors with the good sense to stand by and allow the city to grow.