No longer one Toronto

TheGlobeandMail.com – Commentary/Opinion
Published on Friday, Oct. 22, 2010.   Richard Florida

Canadians often point to the angry red-blue divide that is such a hallmark of American politics – with higher income, more economically advanced places voting Democratic and less affluent, more working-class locales trending Republican – as a problem that Canada has risen above. But this same kind of cleavage has become increasingly apparent in this country – glaringly so in Toronto’s mayoral election.

The most recent Nanos poll shows Rob Ford leading in the former boroughs of Etobicoke, North York and Scarborough, with George Smitherman ahead in Old Toronto. The conventional wisdom is that this is a product of amalgamation and the rise of the megacity, which brought two distinct constituencies into one political jurisdiction in 1998. But it runs far deeper than that.

The Martin Prosperity Institute overlaid a map of the strongholds of the various mayoral candidates with another showing where creative, service and blue-collar employees work. The division isn’t just urban/suburban. Toronto’s economic and political geography takes the shape of a “T” that divides the city on an east-west axis as well as a north-south one.

Higher paying, higher skill creative-class jobs – in fields spanning science and technology; business and management; arts, culture and entertainment; health care and education – are concentrated along subway routes radiating out of the city’s downtown core in both directions. Lower skill, lower wage jobs are concentrated at the periphery of this T in both the core and more outlying areas. There are only a handful of districts left in the city where working-class jobs predominate. One of them, in the far left-hand corner of the map, is Mr. Ford’s. Mr. Smitherman’s former riding is right smack in the middle of the T.

In the U.S., that political divide is also a jurisdictional divide, pitting city against suburb. But, in Toronto, it’s taking place inside the city itself. This inconvenient but unavoidable truth runs counter to a long-standing perception – a social and political consensus – that Toronto, for all its demographic and economic variety, is at bottom “one” city – and that it’s a fair and equitable place.

George Smitherman, Rocco Rossi, Joe Pantalone and even John Tory, despite their differences, all reflect that same consensus – one that has stretched all the way from David Crombie and Mel Lastman to David Miller. The current election campaign shows how frayed that consensus has become. Mr. Ford, as Toronto Star columnist Chris Hume wrote, “has tapped into a deep well of exurban fear and loathing. … He personifies anti-urbanism, which makes him a hero.”

Toronto’s political divide is the result of a fundamental economic restructuring that has brought enormous boons to some and left others out in the cold. As manufacturing shifts abroad and the technology and knowledge economy burgeons, innovative companies, highly skilled people and the jobs that employ them have formed dense clusters. It is this very process that drives economic development forward, spurring innovation, generating new entrepreneurial firms and creating new opportunities. But it also drives up housing values and splits up and sorts people by work and income.

The logic of capitalism is filled with contradictions. These contradictions create new wealth and, simultaneously, bring new divisions and new social costs. Toronto, like virtually every other major city in North America, stands at a critical inflection point. Its recent economic success has, in effect, split it right down its middle.

This is the real subtext of this election, the story we haven’t wanted to acknowledge. Toronto has fallen victim to the same spiky structural forces that are concentrating economic assets and dividing communities across the globe. We can’t push this under the rug. Regardless of what happens on election day, Torontonians must face up to the fact there’s no longer one Toronto. That’s the central challenge the city will be facing long after the election is past.

Richard Florida is director of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management.

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