SW Ontario lagging behind in job creation, income growth, warns economist

city_scope_logo-cmykA sobering report released this week that brings into perspective the impact manufacturing’s decline has had on southwestern Ontario’s median household income through 2015 (the last year of available census data).
The report’s author Ben Eisen, a senior fellow with the Fraser Institute, notes Windsor falls from 10th highest median household income to 25th while London falls from 15th to 27th (out of 36 Canadian metropolitan centres).
St. Thomas is included in the London Census Metropolitan Area (CMA) and so the report has important local relevance.
Eisen’s work covers the period between 2005 and 2015 and so it is a look back in time and the next census in 2021 may give a clearer picture of where we are today.

However, it is relevant when paired with the news of GKN Sinter’s decision to shutter its plant and the bankruptcy of Sle-Co earlier this year.
Curious, we tracked down Eisen in Philadelphia and spoke with him Thursday.Ben-Eisen
In summary, “The numbers tell a clear story. Southwestern Ontario, especially the cities further away from Toronto like London and Windsor, have suffered enormous economic pain.”
Here’s where most area residents can relate: The median household income in the London CMA only grew by 2 per cent between 2005 and 2015 while the national average increased by 13 per cent.
Eisen argues southwestern Ontario is a region “which saw its once-thriving manufacturing sector decimated in the first decade of this century and has not enjoyed a strong rebound since.”
He points out between 2001 and 2019, employment across Ontario increased by 25.9 per cent while growing by just 9.1 per cent in the London CMA.
It is worth noting in a conversation with Sean Dyke, CEO of the St. Thomas Economic Development Corporation, he indicated the manufacturing outlook for the city is quite positive.
“It’s probably only being slowed down by the lack of employees,” suggested Dyke. “I think that might be partially because of the times we are going through right now, but if you drive through the industrial area there’s an awful lot of ‘We’re Hiring’ signs.”

“The big slide in the rate of job creation and stagnation of household income did predate the very harsh trade relations between Canada and the United States.”

Back to our conversation with Eisen, he noted the heavy reliance on manufacturing in the region “and during the 2008-09 recession, those Census Metropolitan Areas – Windsor and London, in which St. Thomas is found – have had a very difficult last 20 years.”
The trend toward American protectionism of late has not helped matters, agreed Eisen.
“It has not helped and it has also interfered with a number of supply chains and that has caused problems with output which makes employment more challenging.”
However it is important to recognize adds Eisen, “The big slide in the rate of job creation and stagnation of household income did predate the very harsh trade relations between Canada and the United States.”
We asked Eisen about the impact of high energy costs in Ontario with relation to attracting industry to the province.
“Electricity is certainly a very large input to manufacturing. So, when you raise the price of that input as quickly as happened following the Green Energy Act, it obviously makes it harder to do business and turn a profit and compete.
“Taking a long look at electricity prices is a good idea.”
Eisen is reluctant to say a region or province is too reliant on a certain sector of its economy.
“Specialization is one of the most important drivers of prosperity within Canada.
And, a strong manufacturing sector is what made the region so productive, the return on the dollar invested was so great.
“What I can say is if that sector takes a hit, as we’re seeing with the oil industry in Alberta, it’s very economically painful.
“And, that’s what happened in London and Windsor over the last 15 or 20 years. I would say it was dealt a very bad blow that manufacturing was hurt so badly over the past 10 or 15 years.

“Just because a job is created, that should not be the end of the story and that family is alright now. That’s not necessarily true.”

“That caused serious problems and the transitions are very hard for lots of families and communities.”
Eisen reminds us that manufacturing did bring prosperity to the region for a very long time.
“Windsor and London was one of the most prosperous regions in the country. So, we don’t want to discount all the prosperity the manufacturing sector brought to the region.
“But when there is a significant job loss (as with the closure of the St. Thomas Ford Assembly Plant and the Sle-Co and GKN Sinter closings) it’s harder to replace those jobs for the people living in those communities.”
As opposed to communities closer to Toronto where there have been greater job creation opportunities.
That has been clearly evident in St. Thomas where the $30 and $35 per hour jobs have been replaced by employment in the $15-$18 per hour range.
With particular emphasis on jobs found through temporary help agencies that never turn into full-time employment.
“That’s a lot of adjustment to your retirement plan,” Eisen stressed, “and what you are able to afford for your family.
“Just because a job is created, that should not be the end of the story and that family is alright now. That’s not necessarily true.
“And that’s why we looked in our report at median household income to try and capture that a little bit.
“London and Windsor have had the weakest median income growth in Canada. The jobs that were created there were often much lower wage per hour jobs.
“And we shouldn’t discount how much economic pain that causes a family during a period of unemployment and afterward when you find yourself in a much lower-paying job.”

“As such, the region’s economic performance is a matter of urgent provincial and national concern.”

Eisen does indicate things have been turning around since 2015.
“There are small signs of positivity over the last few years and it’s very worrying and disappointing with the brutal global pandemic and economic contraction.
“One can only hope, for the time being, we come to a solution on that and the public health problems dissipate and the economy can start going again and, hopefully, Windsor and London and the entire region will recover quickly and we’ll have some good news out of the region in the next census and the one after that, unlike what we’ve seen in the last couple which has been very dispiriting.”
To put all of this in perspective, Eisen pointed out if southwestern Ontario were its own province, it would be the fifth most populous in Canada.
That’s roughly comparable to the Maritime provinces.
“As such,” stressed Eisen, “the region’s economic performance is a matter of urgent provincial and national concern.”


We chatted at length earlier this week with Southwestern Public Health Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Joyce Lock, on several issues related to the region moving into the Orange-Restrict zone for 28 days, effective Nov. 23.
One area of interest is the low incidence of COVID-19 cases reported in St. Thomas and schools across Elgin county. There currently are three students who have tested positive at Straffordville Public School and a new case near the end of this week reported at Forest Park Public School.
Dr. Joyce Lock“That is really encouraging,” stresses Dr. Lock. “We definitely want to do everything we can to keep our schools open.
“This speaks to a lot of the good work being done by our school boards in preparation for the school year. And, making sure the school environment is as safe as possible.
“So, kudos to all the schools.”
She continues, “We’ve noticed this across the province, considering how many schools there are and how many students there are.
“We haven’t been seeing as many cases in schools as we were worried about last summer. And, this seems to be a trend that is in contrast to influenza, where children seem to spread the virus in school and then take it home.
“It seems almost that the cases we are seeing in school have come from the home and happen to be introduced into the school but is not spread around the school as much.
“Again, it speaks to the fact that as long as parents are doing that daily COVID screening and really making sure they don’t send their child to school if they have symptoms. That is all adding up to keeping our schools safe and open.”
And, what about concerns the three area freedom rallies might prove to be super-spreaders?
“We do know that if people do what we’ve all been taught to do, we stay apart, wear a mask and wash our hands, that we can make a difference in cutting down the spread of COVID.

“It’s not so much you have increased restrictions, it is more about increased risk and the need to buckle down and work harder to keep it from spreading.”

“It’s quite remarkable how, if everybody sticks to these basic ways of doing things, it does actually make a difference in cutting down numbers.”
By doing that, are we reducing the chances of a major hit this year from influenza?
“So far this year, we haven’t seen any influenza in our area yet. In Australia, which of course had their winter when we had our summer, they barely had any influenza through the whole season.
“We do think everything we’re doing to keep COVID from spreading is hopefully making a difference in keeping us all safe from influenza in St. Thomas.”
Keeping in mind in a normal year, influenza can also prove a killer when it impacts individuals whose immune systems may be compromised.
And to answer those people who see the move to Orange-Restrict as a further erosion of their freedoms, Dr. Lock offers this observation.
“It’s not so much you have increased restrictions, it is more about increased risk and the need to buckle down and work harder to keep it from spreading.”


If you remember, last week we pondered the appropriate course of action should a live-streamed council or reference committee meeting at city hall encounter technical difficulties whereby the public feed is lost.
We put that scenario to Delany Leitch in MPP Jeff Yurek’s constituency office and, as is always the case, she was prompt and efficient in her response.
She offers this clarification from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing.

* The Municipal Act specifies requirements for open meetings to ensure that most municipal business is conducted transparently, and with access for and in view of the public. There are limited circumstances under the Municipal Act when municipal meetings can be conducted in closed session.
* Electronic meetings are required to follow existing meeting rules including providing notice of meetings to the public, maintaining meeting minutes, and subject to certain exceptions, that meetings continue to be open to the public.
* The electronic meeting provisions under the Municipal Act are optional and flexible. It is up to the individual municipality, and its boards and committees to choose the technology best suited to their local circumstances to enable electronic participation of their members in decision making, as well as ensuring meetings can be open to the public.

If a member of the public believes that a meeting or part of a meeting has been closed improperly, they may request that an investigation be conducted by a meeting investigator appointed by the municipality. If a municipality has not appointed a meeting investigator, the Ontario Ombudsman may conduct a meeting investigation.

There’s still that matter of the whereabouts of the Nov. 2 reference committee meeting and has the city put in place technical backup to minimize the chances of a repeat episode?

Related post:



You know there are many who would love to take the boot to one or more members of city council. And, that’s not just limited to this edition of council.
Well, yesterday (Nov. 27) a group of concerned citizens did just that . . . sort of.
Boot protest re conservation authoritiesThey placed dozens of boots – in all shapes, sizes and colours, in front of city hall to protest proposed changes by the Doug Ford government to the Conservation Authorities Act & Planning Act.
Now, you could argue that shouldn’t this have taken place in front of MPP Jeff Yurek’s office? After, all he is the Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks.
Earlier this month they likely would have done just that however, as the Freedom Rally organizers found out, the CASO station is private property and to respect that, yesterday’s participants chose city hall as the boot depository.
As background info, more than 110 organizations oppose the proposed changes to the Conservation Authorities Act & Planning Act which were slipped into the government’s omnibus budget bill (Bill 229, Schedule 6).
The provisions are welcomed by developers and would appear to allow for increased deterioration of wetlands, forests, wildlife habitat and natural spaces.
Ultimately increasing flood risk, among other negative impacts.
We spoke with Al Bod, one of the participants, about the significance of the boots.
“For one thing we have to do it visually and someone came up with this idea and it makes sense for two reasons.
“First of all, the conservation authorities currently decide what happens to our wetlands and they do a lot of their works with boots. As opposed to politicians who wear their dress shoes, or whatever.
“The other aspect is often times people will need boots if they’re going for walks in conservation areas, whether that’s Springwater or Dalewood.
“So, there’s that connection as well.”

“In this area, from what I understand, private landowners have a lot to say about it. They are the ones who really put the focus on giving the MPPs the right to override the ruling of the conservation authorities.”

As he quickly added, with the increased impact of climate change comes a greater risk of flooding.
Bod says he emailed Yurek with his concerns “and got a respectful response which is simply the talking points that they give in the Legislature, as well.
“They said they consulted with a wide variety of groups and they did back in January but what they’re not saying, in my opinion, is that they only listened to a very narrow segment of those consultations.
“The ones who wanted this action done. Whether that was developers in the Greater Toronto Area, in particular.”
“In this area, from what I understand, private landowners have a lot to say about it. They are the ones who really put the focus on giving the MPPs the right to override the ruling of the conservation authorities.”
Which likely will lead to considerable development in sensitive areas.
“The likelihood will lead to flooding. In the Toronto area alone I think there is something like only two per cent that is undeveloped and the more asphalt you have, the more buildings you have and the tighter spaced they are, the fewer places for water to run off.
Bod goes on to warn with these changes, expert science-based decisions by conservation authorities will be replaced with political decisions for narrow development interests.
Sound familiar if you are paying heed to events south of the border?
Bod adds the changes force municipally appointed board members to conservation authorities to speak in favour of private landowners and municipal development, instead of prioritizing broader watershed protection that benefits us all now and for generations into the future.
A key point, concludes Bod, is the changes remove conservation authorities’ ability to directly comment on the impacts of proposed developments to municipal governments.
They will have no control whatsoever over the damaging impacts of proposed developments.
We’ll be closely following what transpires in the coming weeks.


Responding to our item last week on live-streamed meetings, reader Dave Mathers emailed us this observation.

“I agree with Andrew Sancton. It wasn’t that long ago that there was no broadcasting of council meetings. With so many people and groups using the various meeting formats, it’s not surprising that there are interruptions.”

Questions and comments may be emailed to City Scope

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And a reminder, I can be heard weekday afternoons as news anchor and reporter on 94.1 myFM in St. Thomas. As always, your comments and input are appreciated.


One thought on “SW Ontario lagging behind in job creation, income growth, warns economist

  1. Re: Job Creation/Income Growth
    All the more reason to tell Doug Ford we need — and want — the Guaranteed Basic Income, province-wide. It’ll take some powerful pushing (considering that shortly after being elected he made it a priority to cancel the pilot project already underway), but isn’t it past time government put our needs before what Big Business wants?


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