Q What is the economic outlook for Toronto for this year?
A We are concerned, as are regions everywhere in the world. The good thing about Toronto is that we head Canada’s banking system. All of the major banks except one, all of the major insurance companies, and all of the major law and accounting firms have their head offices here. Our banking system has proved to be well regulated and is handling the international credit crisis, I think, far better than anywhere else, so that is a positive for Toronto. However, we are impacted upon by the significant decline in manufacturing in the Toronto region – not the city per se but our region – so we anticipate considerable challenges this year. Recent reports have shown significant job losses in January, predominantly in manufacturing, and other sectors, of course, are affected. It is quite clearly a challenging year. We are fortunate not to be in as difficult a shape as many other jurisdictions, but it is challenging.
Q What are the key sectors and how are they looking?
A There are a number of clusters that we support that I think can be countercyclical. For example, within the creative industries, film, television and media are very important. In North America, the creative industry has been suffering because of labour issues in the US. This year looks like a good year for Toronto. We are very strong, for example, in computer animation and visual effects. We offer the best training in the world at Sheridan College. It is a very entrepreneurial industry and we have invented some of the software that is used worldwide for visual effects right here in Toronto.
In biotechnology research, we have world-calibre teaching hospitals right next to one of the leading universities in the world, the University of Toronto. Our MaRS Discovery District project is fantastic and it works because it incorporates the research, the venture capital, the patent agents, everybody. It has been a significant success.
We are a centre of excellence for food manufacturing and that is something we are still trying to support because it should not be affected by the global recession in the same way that other manufacturing is. We are trying to focus on green jobs in green sustainable industries and push that entire sector, along with our traditional strengths such as information and communications technology.
We are also considering the government sector as key to the economy at the moment. We are investing $25bn during the next decade in our own capital programme.
We are concerned about construction because that has been a huge driver in Toronto. Last year, we had more than 1.2 million square metres of commercial property under construction, partly because of our tax policies that have been lowering tax rates on commercial buildings. That is very significant; we are concerned about that sector.
Q Are any of these projects being halted?
A No. The projects are continuing except for MaRS, oddly enough, but that is a US-financed project. The ones that have Canadian financing are continuing, but there is concern for new projects coming on stream. In fact, I went to a groundbreaking for a new office building behind Union Station in November, so that was a positive sign – it is a commercial building. The investment was still there in November, despite the worldwide economic situation, but that is a sector that is under pressure. We are more concerned about new projects and it is because of credit issues really.
2003City of Toronto
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