Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

Doug Ford sticks with the playbook of misleading voters

By: Metro Canada Published on Wed Sep 24 2014

With Doug Ford’s first debate behind us, a couple of things are now confirmed.

First, the remaining days of this election will be filled with a lot of yelling.

Second, Doug Ford is just going to continue with his brother’s playbook, employing the same strategy and talking points.

Many of those talking points are about the city’s economic record over the last four years. Doug isn’t quite as rehearsed as his brother at rattling off the statistics, but he sure gave it a try last night, often referring to KPMG studies about taxes.

It’s clear that a major focus of Doug Ford's inherited campaign will be to take credit for Toronto’s economic success — because, hey, the city is “booming, folks.”

To get a better idea of how he might try to do that, let’s rewind to the Sept. 4 mayoral debate held by the Globe & Mail and the Toronto Region Board of Trade. Back then, Mayor Rob Ford was still in the race.

Here’s how the mayor made his pitch at the podium: “KPMG says we are the most tax competitive city in the world. That wasn’t like that four years ago, friends. Best North American cities for business and investment. We’re second. That wasn’t like that. Forbes magazine — most influential global city. We’re tenth. That was not like that four years ago. We issued 140,000 new building permits, 80,000 residential, 60,000 commercial and industrial. Approved $29 billion of new development. We have a GDP that grew by 12 per cent. That’s $70 billion in exports every year. Friends, that was not like that four years ago.”

However, the problem for both Rob and Doug Ford is that the city’s economy was actually a lot “like that four years ago.”

Take the KPMG study the brothers continue to reference. It’s part of a report called Competitive Alternatives that comes out every two years. In their Focus on Tax section, the authors rank countries and cities by a variety of metrics to determine how competitive their taxes are. They factor in all types of taxation, including federal and provincial.

I found copies of KPMG’s tax competitiveness reports going back to 2008. For that year, Toronto was ranked seventh out of 35 large international cities. In 2010 — before Rob Ford had been elected — the next version of the report gave Toronto a rank of fifth out of 41 cities. That's an upward trend, folks.

It’s possible the authors had anticipated the Fords upcoming presence at city hall and increased Toronto’s tax competitiveness in anticipation, but I doubt it.

Toronto held on to its fifth-place ranking in 2012, then increased its standing to first in the most recent report. The Fords could have grounds to claim Toronto increased its tax competitiveness ranking by four positions during their term, but there's zero basis for a claim that the city didn't rank well before the mayoral election in 2010.

Rob Ford’s other references were also hard to take seriously in the context of not being “like that” four years ago. FDI magazine did indeed recently rank Toronto second in a list of best cities for business friendliness, but the magazine didn’t start publishing those rankings in its American Cities of the Future report until 2012. So the ranking didn’t exist four years ago. Similarly, there doesn’t seem to be direct precedent for the Forbes “most influential cities” study Ford mentions, but it’s worth noting that Forbes ranked Toronto as the 10th most economically powerful city way back in 2008.

In fact, Toronto has generally ranked well in these kinds of lists — for whatever they’re worth — each and every year. The introduction to Mayor David Miller’s 2010 city budget has a giant list of achievements that sound very similar to the ones Ford listed.

Back then, the city was ranked first in a list of the world’s most liveable cities by PriceWaterHouseCoopers. Toronto was named one of the top 12 global financial centres by Z/Yen Group Limited. We were ranked fourth in the world’s liveability survey by the Economic Intelligence Unit, and Foreign Policy Magazine named Toronto one of the top 10 global cities.

And so on. You wouldn’t know it from the way we grumble about things, but Toronto has kind of been a big deal for a long time.

As for the bragging about building permits and GDP, it’s correct to say that Toronto’s economy is doing well by those measures, but the mayor was wrong to imply that Toronto’s building boom is a recent phenomenon.

According to the city’s annual economic dashboard, the city’s building boom really ramped up between 2006 and 2010 — Miller’s second term — when the annual value of permits almost doubled, from $3.5 billion in 2006 to $6.6 billion in 2010. Growth has continued under Ford, but at a slightly more reasonable pace, from $6.9 billion in 2011 to $7.9 billion in 2013.

On the GDP, let’s allow the chart below speak for itself. Unless you’re going to blame Mayor Mel Lastman for the SARS crisis in 2003 or Miller for the worldwide economic meltdown in 2008, it’s challenging to find anything in this chart that points to a major upward shift in the city’s economy suddenly taking shape in 2011.

But that only makes sense. As I’ve written before, the mayor and council have pretty limited powers to sway the local economy. As a result, it’s dangerous for local politicians to brag about economic indicators that are totally unrelated to their policy decisions. Last year, the mayor got burned when he tried to take credit for a falling unemployment rate, an unemployment rate that later shot back up.

In fact, the latest city-published economic data showed that 73,000 fewer people were employed in Toronto in July 2014 versus the same month in 2013.

Expect Doug Ford to follow his brother’s lead and continue to work various economic figures into his stump speeches. Don't expect him to mention that one.

This post was originally published at on 2014-09-24T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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