Toronto remains vital, but looking ahead the signs aren’t good.

Toronto Star
October 6, 2009

Christopher Hume

Most disturbing, perhaps, is the growing plight of recent immigrants, who more than ever are being consigned to the economic, social and civic wilderness.

In any city, this would be bad news, but in Toronto, a city of immigrants, it is doubly so.

We may be celebrated around the world for our tolerance – a quality in short supply in most countries – but the figures make it clear this is starting to wear thin.

According to the 2009 Vital Signs report, this city still ranks among the most liveable on the planet. But, it warns, “Toronto offers newcomers a poor quality of life.”

And, the document continues, “The earnings gap between recent immigrants and Canadian-born workers has widened significantly over 25 years.

“In 1980, recent immigrant women earned 85 cents for each dollar received by Canadian-born workers. By 2005, the ratio was 56 cents, even though the educational levels of immigrant earners has risen faster.”

It also confirms the stereotype of the foreign-trained PhD who moves to Canada only to end up employed as a cab driver or an overnight security guard at some anonymous suburban shopping mall.

Furthermore, the report points out, “Recent immigrants are more than three times likely to have lost jobs in the economic downturn than their Canadian-born colleagues. Employment levels dropped 1.6 per cent between June 2008 and June 2009 for the Canadian-born population, and 5.7 per cent for recent immigrants, whose unemployment rate is double that of Canadian-born.”

To make matters even worse, that means recent immigrants must devote an overly large proportion of their income on housing, much of which is located in the city’s aging inner-suburbs. These neighbourhoods have emerged as the new locations of poverty.

“Almost 30 per cent of immigrant renter households were spending more than 50 per cent of household incomes on shelter,” the authors note, “compared to 20 per cent of established immigrants and 22 per cent of non-immigrants.”

The backdrop to the Vital Signs findings is a city in which the gap between the richest and poorest residents now ranks as the highest in Canada. Indeed, we have reached the point where the income of the top 10 per cent is more than 10 times that of the lowest 10 per cent. In current dollars, that translates into $167,000 annually versus $15,800.

And as is typically the case, the poor are confined to neighbourhoods that have the heaviest pollution. That having been said, the report also notes that, “Toronto’s air quality has yet to meet provincial standards for 2010.”

Most disturbing of all for a city that prides itself on its diversity are the findings about citizenship and civic engagement.

The good news is that “65 per cent of recent black immigrants, 70 per cent of south Asian immigrants and 52 per cent of Chinese immigrants felt they belonged in Canada.”

But, we are also told, “In the second generation those numbers dropped to 37 per cent, 50 per cent and 44 per cent respectively.”

In other words, the sense of community that one would expect to grow with time is actually dropping.

Can there be any doubt that Toronto is a city at a turning point? There has been much discussion about our crumbling infrastructure, but it turns out that can be understood as metaphor as well as physical reality.

Meanwhile, it seems that it’s not Nero who’s fiddling while this Rome burns, but the citizens. Rather than face the worrisome signs of internal decline, we prefer to bicker amongst ourselves, complain about bike lanes, potholes and taxes and, aided and abetted by local media, vilify our outgoing mayor as if he were the only one to blame for our woes.

In truth, we are Toronto and the city is us. To forget that is to forget the difference between the individual and the community.

Diversity, in the words of the city’s motto, is our strength. But these days, Toronto’s not looking so strong.

Christopher Hume can be reached at

Reference: Toronto Star