Show us the jobs

Upcoming provincial and municipal elections are your chance to hold politicians to account

Looking south on George Street in Peterborough's downtown core (photo: Pat Trudeau)
Looking south on George Street in Peterborough's downtown core (photo: Pat Trudeau)

On the heels of the official introduction of the Wynne government’s budget, another early election has been called after the opposition vowed they would vow against the budget. Not surprisingly, it only took hours for the three major political leaders of Ontario to start posturing.

This is a very important election for Ontario, but more so for the City of Peterborough. April’s unemployment numbers were released recently and once again they’re on the rise, topping out at 11.7%. This means that more than ever, people need to put some serious thought into who they will vote for in next month’s provincial election — and in the upcoming municipal election this fall.

Each provincial party is promising “boosts to the economy”. Most notable and laughable is the “Million Jobs Act” from Ontario PC Leader Tim Hudak.

You may call me a cynic, but the only politicians capable of creating one million jobs in Ontario would have to be wizards with control over global economies. They’d also have to be able to keep the Canadian dollar trading at about $0.80 for two years straight to boost the confidence of the manufacturing vertical. Now I may be judgemental, but I don’t think Tim Hudak is a wizard with a proficiency in international economic stimulus.

The best part of this “Million Jobs Act” is that a plan on how to implement it doesn’t exist. For well over a month Tim Hudak has been touting the plan but, according to his own site, the plan hasn’t “launched” yet.

Liberal leader Kathleen Wynne suffers from one major problem and that’s brand association. The transition from Dalton McGuinty to Kathleen Wynne as Ontario Premier can be likened to someone lighting their old house on fire right before the new tenants move in. The more than $1 billion price tag associated with the cancelled gas plants in Oakville and Mississauga, along with the continued evidence of questionable behaviour going on under McGuinty’s leadership, would haunt whoever was at the helm of the Liberal Party.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath’s policies are as clear as mud. Her plan to create jobs is so vague I almost needed a map to get through it. For example: “We will stop the no-strings-attached corporate tax giveaway. When compared to the U.S. — our real competitors when it comes to jobs — we’re already more than competitive”. This is just political jargon that means nothing and it’s part of her official policy. While there are aspects of her plan that have a germ of something that makes sense, it feels mainly like rhetoric.

All the talk of creating jobs peaked my interest and I decided to take a look at the Performance Measures Scorecard and Status Report for 2013 from the Greater Peterborough Area Economic Development Corporation (GPA EDC). The report outlines 2013 as a successful year for the publicly funded organization that’s responsible for not only marketing Peterborough as a tourist destination, but also as a place for businesses to invest.

A graph from Peterborough Economic Development's 2013 Achievement Highlights
A graph from Peterborough Economic Development’s 2013 Achievement Highlights
According to this report, the GPA EDC was responsible for adding or retaining 245 jobs to or in Peterborough. However, the reporting of where those jobs are isn’t very detailed. The jobs are listed as “100 Lifestyle Home Products, 50 Minacs, 8 Food Service Jobs, 1 Manufacturing Jobs (Company A), 7 Manufacturing Jobs (Company B), 62 BAC, 2 Motor Ops, 6 – 3 Dr./3 support, Plus 9 summer company jobs”.

One of the more interesting tidbits of the report is where it moves away from metrics to the satisfaction survey section. Note that the survey was completed by the GPA EDC and about 15% of people responded to it.

To start, the results claim a 92.3% satisfaction from local business stakeholders in the service and value of their interaction with the GPA EDC. Then there’s a reported 90% satisfaction rate from visitors interacting with the GPA EDC’s tourism operations.

However, things take a slight turn for the worse when it comes to the satisfaction rate from politicians and senior administration on how well the organization manages the city and county’s priorities — with a dismal 45.5%.

Perhaps the other 54.5% of respondents were unimpressed by the fact that since GPA EDC President Dan Taylor joined the organization in 2011, Peterborough’s unemployment rate has done nothing but increase. The man credited with turning around the economy of Prince Edward County over the course of a decade by marketing its “creative economy” is apparently having a difficult time doing the same here.

I’m no expert, but the people in these roles are supposed to be. There’s been a lot of posing for pictures, sound bites, press conferences for the mundane, and all the while council, led by Mayor Bennett, has not held the GPA EDC’s feet to the fire.

Peterborough's unemployment rate and trend from 1998 to 2014, using seasonally adjusted unemployment rates from Statistics Canada (chart:
Peterborough’s unemployment rate and trend from 1998 to 2014, using seasonally adjusted unemployment rates from Statistics Canada (chart:
I’m not questioning the character or quality of the people at the GPA EDC. I’m sure they’re all good and hard-working people.

What I am saying is that sometimes the hardest thing to admit is failure. Sometimes good people aren’t meant to be in some roles. Sometimes the magic runs out.

For the more than 1 in 10 people in Peterborough without a job, something needs to change.

What I would suggest is this: if you’re frustrated with $2 million of city, county, provincial and federal dollars being invested in an organization with ineffective leadership, call or email your councillor and ask if they’re part of the happy 45% or the frustrated 55%.

If they’re part of the latter, then maybe they have some ideas on how to improve economic development and maybe they deserve your vote. If they’re happy with the way economic development has progressed over the last three years, perhaps you can use your vote to effect change and put an end to an obviously inefficient cooperative between a vision that doesn’t work and politicians that are satisfied with mediocrity.