National Post Editorial – Leslieville big box refusal right call

The National Post published my editorial on the City and the community’s victory at the OMB.Read below or go here

The word on everyone’s lips these days is “economy.”

Within the first few pages of every newspaper we are reading about deficit spending, bank bailouts and of course job losses. The federal and provincial governments are scrambling to present a stimulus package to create activity that will lead to jobs.

The City of Toronto, too, has been working to cushion the blow of this downturn for residents. Through our various departments and the community, the city has been looking to maximize the new powers obtained under the City of Toronto Act to ensure that there is a strong economy in the city with adequate jobs for our residents.

The city has partnered with stakeholders in the private sector, with labour groups and others in the community to create a framework “Agenda for Prosperity,” which provides a blueprint for a modern, healthy and equitable urban economy. However, the matter of land-use jurisdiction remains a most significant barrier on the city’s ability to effectively act on plans to make and secure jobs for the future.

This is why the OMB decision last week, which did not allow the conversion of employment lands to a ”big box” retail, is so welcome. Preserving and protecting employment lands is an important part of Toronto’s official plan. It is also a key feature of the provincial government’s “Place to Grow” legislation. The OMB found that adding big box retail would undermine the functioning of other economic activities within the “employment district.”

All the pieces in this important case, which was heard by the OMB, provide a microcosm of the serious economic challenges we face today: How are we going to create jobs for people in this economic climate? What type of jobs are we going to create? And a question that has yet to receive much consideration: Where will these jobs go?

While there is consensus that a package of some sort is necessary, there exists a lack of recognition among higher orders of government that land use needs to be part of a stimulus strategy that will achieve its desired end. Very simply, there will be little point in trying to attract jobs and investment to generate an economic recovery if there is no place for these jobs to go.

Within the City of Toronto, a mere 16 employment districts remain zoned to provide for high-value and creative industries jobs. The South of Eastern district is one of only two employment districts within the boundaries of the old City of Toronto. In total, these 16 employment districts currently provide over 370,000 jobs in value-added industries. Industries operating in these areas, such as the film industry in the case of South of Eastern, bring three times more economic benefit to the Toronto economy per worker ($33,000 GDP/worker for retail and $106,000 GDP/worker for creative industries).

Consumer ability to spend has also been a focus of any discussion around an economic recovery. Of course, ability to spend depends on disposable income. CIBC World Markets reports that median weekly wages for workers in motion picture and video industries is $652 and weekly wages for retail workers ranges from $294 to $450. Manufacturing can go as high as $807 for a median weekly wage.

Not all jobs provide opportunities and sufficient incomes for families and their communities.

As the talks continue around where public dollars should go to keep food on the tables of working people, there needs to be an acknowledgement that there are measures that have no costs and which need to be strictly applied in order to make incentives work. Policies that protect employment lands need to be adhered to — period. This policy bears no price tag, yet it provides the foundation to set in motion a stimulus package that will create the space for the jobs that everyone wants to see. From there a discussion can begin on what type of industries and investments will truly bring prosperity to our communities.

What this crisis has demonstrated is that planning must be an element of a sensible, dependable economy. As we near the end of the first decade of the new millennium, the ecological, social and now economic challenges that we face cannot be ignored. What is needed are environmentally responsible industries that generate good jobs and contribute to the generation of wealth.

Cities need the power to make sure they have homes for these industries so that we can provide a future for our homeowners.