The two-track city: Toronto's election, and what it means for the rest of Canada.

AuthorTaylor, Zack

Toronto's never ending election is over. Having dispatched Doug Ford--the eleventh-hour campaign surrogate for his ailing brother, Mayor Rob Ford--as well as former councillor and NDP MP Olivia Chow, John Tory takes office on a promise of bringing managerial competence and political stability to the city that journalist Robyn Doolittle has dubbed "Crazy Town." Toronto can go back to being its boring old self--the city the rest of Canada loves to hate or tries to ignore.

Or can it? The mayor may have changed, but the rest of the city hasn't. Canadians should take notice, for the causes of the city's fractured politics are not limited to Hogtown, and their effects may have repercussions far beyond city limits.

The origins of the two-track city

For most of the postwar era, Toronto was the industrial engine of the Canadian economy. While the industrial metropolises of the American midwest and northeast foundered, Greater Toronto grew like a Sunbelt city, adding almost a million new residents decade over decade. Favoured by location and national trade policy, Toronto supplanted Montreal as the country's preeminent city and became an extraordinarily successful integrator of immigrants from around the world.

The foundations of Toronto's success started to come undone in the 1980s and 1990s as the federal government liberalized continental trade and rolled back income support programs. Free trade sparked a painful restructuring of the manufacturing base, accelerating the shift to a service-based knowledge economy. City statistics report a halving of manufacturing employment between 1983 and 2013--a loss of 117,900 skilled jobs. Total employment only surpassed its 1989 peak 24 years later, in 2013. Those left behind by deindustrialization faced a rocky transition to lower-paying and more precarious service jobs, with more limited social supports. The foundations that supported a substantial proportion of Toronto's postwar middle-class prosperity eroded.

Also in trouble was a growing cohort of underemployed immigrants. National immigration policy admits immigrants on the basis of their education and skills, yet many face difficulty in the job market because their credentials are not recognized or they lack "Canadian experience." As a result, recent immigrants to Toronto and other Canadian cities tend to have higher unemployment and make lower wages than native-born Canadians. While immigrant labour-market outcomes tend to converge with those of others over time, Toronto's role as the country's principal immigrant-receiving jurisdiction means that a substantial proportion of the city's people are newcomers. According to the 2011 National Household Survey, 16 per cent had arrived within the last decade.

Paralleling these developments is growth at the top of the income ladder. The proportions of households with high and low incomes have both increased, squeezing the middle. The overall picture, then, is of a two-track city in which rising income inequality has driven a wedge between haves and have-nots.

A growing city-suburb divide

These economic and demographic transformations are not spread equally across the city. Mapping concentrations of immigrant residents and visible minorities (a proxy for more recently...

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