Job creation, attracting businesses to Ward 2 identified as key election issues

Even with the billion-dollar Woodbine Live development scheduled to break ground in Ward 2 (Etobicoke-North) this fall – bringing with it an estimated 9,000 new jobs – employment still tops the list of priorities for local voters this election.

And for good reason. Despite the economic upswing, unemployment rates across the city remain in the double digits, with the most recent Stats Canada figures pegging at 10.1 the percentage of Toronto’s workforce that was jobless in August. And the jobs that are available here in Ward 2 are not always the most desirable, said Good Jobs for All’s Nigel Barriffe, a community activist and local elementary school teacher.

“Many of the jobs that are created in our neighbourhood consist of short-term, precarious, temporary work that doesn’t really pay the mortgage or rent, and it really just perpetuates the level of poverty,” he said. “Even with the Woodbine Live development, there’s still no guarantee of the number of full-time jobs available or the types of jobs they will offer.”

Barriffe should know, too. It was as a member of Community Organizing for Responsible Development (CORD) that he helped to lobby for a community benefits agreement with Woodbine Live – a campaign that, in the end, fell short of guaranteeing to local residents a percentage of the jobs available, but did succeed in negotiating the construction of a local employment centre to ensure local residents receive first notice of jobs.

Such steps go a long way towards job-creating relationship building between community and development, said Fatima Filippi, executive director of the Rexdale Women’s Centre.

“It’s a good step in that direction to make that kind of commitment, because it helps us to frame how we can work with Woodbine Live and how vital it is to our community and how vital our community is to them,” she said. “It’s a reciprocal relationship with mutual benefits, not just a ‘give me a job’ situation.”

With such pressing employment issues weighing on the minds of voters, The Guardian asked each candidate in the race for the Ward 2 councillorship what they would do, if elected, to spur local job creation.

Italian-trained Somali-Canadian doctor Cadigia Ali, who came a distant second to Rob Ford in the 2006 election, said her priority is to bring sustainable jobs to the ward – not part-time jobs, but full-time employment with benefits that will allow families to pay the mortgage and put food on the table.

“My vision of Toronto is to invest in our city, and to do something for our youth, who are crying for jobs in this area,” she said, noting that she’d like to see the city invest in assets it already owns in order to spur on job creation. “With hydro, we can use what we have already so we can create good jobs. For example, on all municipality buildings we could use solar panelling, which would create jobs in manufacturing, in distribution, in electrical, in all kinds of sectors.”

Doug Ford, brother to Ward 2 incumbent and mayoral candidate Rob Ford, said he’d follow a three-pronged approach to taking the estimated five million square feet of vacant industrial space in Etobicoke and filling it with vibrant, booming businesses.

Tax incentives would make fair the playing ground with Mississauga, Brampton and Markham, while tax-reduced zones would coax businesses back to Toronto, he said. For his third prong, Ford said he’d use the business contacts he’s accumulated over 25 years working for the family business, Deco Labels and Tags, to try to attract the big corporations to north Etobicoke.

“I think we have to be out in their faces,” he said, noting he’s talked to 30 of the top CEOs in Canada in the last two weeks alone. “On top of being a city councillor, I’m going to run the council like I run my business – I’m going to be out there door-knocking on some of the biggest corporations in the world, saying ‘can you open a facility in Etobicoke?'”

Rajinder Lall, a RE/MAX real estate broker said he’d also like to lower taxes to not only keep businesses in Etobicoke, but to attract more to the area. He also said he sees a lot of job creation potential with the Woodbine Live development, but would like to see the community benefits agreement taken to the next level.

“I say we should keep 30 per cent of the jobs for our people – to keep them for Ward 2 people,” he said. “We also have to give (businesses) some incentive to come here. More people don’t come here because we have higher taxes. We need to change that.”

Third-generation Etobian Jason Pedlar, a professional mediator, said he’d like to work in conjunction with councillors from other regions of the city who also have commercial and industrial lands sitting vacant and work together strategically to provide tax incentives.

He said he’d like to institute a tax system like Mississauga’s, where they have “something like 30 different tax rates for various commercial lands, depending on the use.”

“I think we have two or three in Toronto – it’s sort of a one-size-fits-all kind of approach. The problem with that is that it’s not a one-size-fits-all situation: downtown Toronto has different interests and needs than north Etobicoke does,” he said. “We need to come up with a strategic program, not just for Ward 2, but other areas that could identify with our issues and find a solution to actually attract business into those under-served areas, and bring with them the jobs people need.”

Luciano Rizzuti, who is self-employed in maintenance and distribution, said he’d focus on small business to create new jobs.

“I think small businessmen need some kind of incentive so they can create another one or two jobs. If we can do it at that level, at that miniscule level, and reach every small businessman – not the conglomerates, but the actual mom-and-pop type of operations that are managing to pay their own bills and have the potential to increase their operations if given some sort of incentive – then we can create a lot of jobs,” he said, noting he’d consider a tax reduction or some sort of a rebate on business taxes for such businesses.

Last but not least, economist Andrew Saikaley said he’d look both long- and short-term to solving Ward 2’s jobless woes. Long-term, he said he’d like to take the teach-a-man-to-fish approach, by providing budding young business people with the “fundamental business knowledge” they need to make a go of it.

“There’s more to starting a restaurant, for example, than simply making a good meal. The restaurant business has one of the highest bankruptcy rates among small businesses in the first five years, because people don’t have that background in terms of the business or the budgeting,” he said. “So the longer term answer is education.”

In the short-term, Saikaley said incentives are mandatory to bring in the jobs: “To attract businesses, we need to give them tax breaks – to identify industrial areas that are underused or not used at all and then step in and provide usable resources to incubate new businesses.”