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Toronto mayoral candidates Olivia Chow (LEFT) John Tory attend a flag raising ceremony at city hall on May 16 2014. (Fred Lum/Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)
Toronto mayoral candidates Olivia Chow (LEFT) John Tory attend a flag raising ceremony at city hall on May 16 2014. (Fred Lum/Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)

The mayoral magicians of job creation Add to ...

It always rings false when political candidates promise to create heaps of new jobs. Conservative Tim Hudak claims he would wave his magic wand and create no less than one million, just like that.

When candidates for mayor vow to spin jobs out of straw, the boast sounds especially hollow. Most job creation comes from economic growth, and mayors have very little power over that. Even prime ministers and premiers exaggerate their influence over the business cycle and they have far more than mayors.

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That hasn’t stopped this year’s crop of mayoral candidates from posing as magicians of job creation. Start with John Tory, a former Conservative leader and business executive who should know better.

On Wednesday his staff sent a bulletin to the media: “John Tory to unveil plan to create 70,000 jobs.” When the promised unveiling came the next day at an east-end coffee wholesaler, it turned out that he was merely expressing support for a private company’s existing proposal to develop some industrial land near the mouth of the Don River.

First Gulf wants to build a new business hub on the site, an ambition it announced a couple of years ago. Its chief executive says the development could bring “as many as” 70,000 jobs to the city. In other words, up to 70,000 people could work there one day. Making a place for 70,000 people to work is not the same as creating 70,000 jobs.

Though the proposal is promising, there are big hurdles to jump before it can happen. Making the land usable would require rerouting the east end of the Gardiner Expressway and running new roads and transit lines into the area at the cost of many millions. All of this is already being studied at city hall. Mr. Tory’s endorsement of someone else’s proposal that is years from fruition hardly amounts to “a plan to create 70,000 jobs.”

His other job promises are almost as implausible. He wants to start a new medical school at York University, exploiting the coming subway link with Humber River Regional Hospital and creating a “high-tech employment corridor.” Mayors don’t create medical schools. That is a provincial responsibility.

He wants to lean on companies to hire more young people, a plan that, according to his website, would “result in thousands of new youth-employment jobs in his first term.” He would use his personal connections, too, calling business contacts to remind them of their “civic responsibility” to hire the young. Even a man as plugged-in as Mr. Tory is unlikely to create many jobs just by picking up the phone.

The Olivia Chow campaign jumped all over that, calling it a “clubby promise” by a wealthy Conservative out of touch with a city “whose people aren’t part of his Rolodex.” But Ms. Chow’s job promises are unrealistic, too. She says she would hire about 300 more young people a year for tree planting and after-school recreation programs. She claims she could create another 5,000 jobs and apprenticeships by requiring companies that win big city contracts to hire young people.

So in the Chow view of the world, it is silly to urge companies to hire young people but perfectly sensible to make them hire young people. As the Tory campaign was quick to note, this smacks of the old-school NDP approach that Ms. Chow has been trying so hard to distance herself from. What if you make contractors hire the young and there aren’t enough of them with the skills and experience for the work required?

Rather than pressuring or forcing companies to hire, city hall should be creating the conditions that make them want to hire. That means keeping taxes reasonable, cutting red tape, providing good services, building and maintaining infrastructure – all the things that make a city an attractive place to live, work and do business.

Do those things well and the jobs will come, without all the fairy-dust promises about magical mayors and the thousands of jobs they will conjure.

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