All government leaders try to take credit for good times and duck the blame for bad. When the economy is booming, it is always the government’s heroic efforts that are responsible. When it is sagging, well, obviously, the government has been sideswiped by economic forces far beyond its control.
Rob Ford is no exception to this old rule. At a news conference Thursday, he claimed to be responsible for a big drop in Toronto’s unemployment rate. “I was elected on a promise to create jobs and address Toronto’s unemployment rate, and today I am proud to stand before you and say that’s exactly what I have done,” he said at an event that sounded very much like a re-election rally.
The Toronto unemployment rate has dropped to 7.1 per cent from a peak of 11 per cent. “Another promise made, another promise kept,” he said. “This is a major accomplishment.”
But is it his accomplishment? Unemployment has fallen across the country as the economy rebounds from the worst recession in decades. Nationally, it was down to 7.1 per cent last month from a high of 8.7 per cent in August, 2009.
Joblessness has fallen in most cities, regardless of who is in the mayor’s chair. Edmonton’s rate fell to 4.7 per cent in 2012 from 6.7 per cent in 2010. Hamilton’s went to 6.5 per cent from 7.6 per cent in the same period.
“Is it possible that all the mayors in these towns are doing things that make the unemployment rate drop?” says Harry Krashinsky, a professor of labour economics at the University of Toronto. “It’s possible, but unlikely. National and provincial factors are the prime suspects here.”
Pressed by reporters to explain how, exactly, he had managed to slay the beast of unemployment, Mr. Ford said he has been cutting red tape, making the city safer and cleaner, fighting gridlock and campaigning to build subways. The last, obviously, is a work in progress; the others, pretty hard to quantify. “We’ve made it a business-friendly atmosphere,” the mayor said, “and you have to have business experience to do that, and obviously I do.”
But many of the city’s efforts to help business started well before Mr. Ford took office in December, 2010. The gradual lowering of business taxes to help the city compete with its 905 rivals started under former mayor David Miller. So did Invest Toronto, the agency set up to attract investors to the city. The high-rise building boom that has put more cranes on the Toronto skyline than in any other North American city was well under way when Mr. Ford was elected.
Michael Williams, the city’s economic development manager, insists that a change of mood in Toronto has contributed to its economic rebound. “By far the most important factor is psychological. Psychology drives the markets,” he said.
He gives the mayor and the chair of the economic development committee, Michael Thompson, credit for “supporting the business community – and I think that is having a significant impact on people creating jobs.”
Toronto’s job-creation boom is impressive, no doubt. The city says that for the first time since 1989, Toronto’s unemployment rate is as low or lower than the averages for the 905, the province and the country. The labour participation rate is the highest since 1991. The number of employed Toronto residents has risen by 58,000 in a year. The “screen-based” industry (animation, television, film, etc.) had a record year.
Mr. Ford is within his rights to revel in all of this and to spread the word of Toronto’s success. Whether he can claim credit for it is another question.