Toronto’s poor business ranking at issue

Mayor candidates (l-r) Rocco Rossi, Rob Ford, George Smitherman, Joe Pantalone, Sarah Thomson about to debate the future of business in Toronto last Friday. (HEYMAN_BSBD_2(E))

Toronto is 96th out of 96. Dead last. And city businesses say there’s nowhere to go but up.

On Friday, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) staged a mayoral debate at Toronto’s Fairmont Royal York Hotel.

Mayoral candidates George Smitherman, Rob Ford, Sarah Thomson, Rocco Rossi and Joe Pantalone faced questions from CFIB members. Hot-button issues included uncontrolled city hall spending, private-sector taxation and union-only contracting.

But the CFIB’s “Communities in Boom” ranking of 96 Canadian cities attracted the most interest. Judith Andrew is vice-president of legislative affairs at the CFIB.

“When the situation has deteriorated as much as this has, 96 out of 96, that’s clearly a priority,” Andrew said.

The survey weighed 12 factors – ranging from how many independent businesses started up in a given area during the year, to the taxes businesses are expected to pay.

In 2009, Saskatoon, Sask,, finished first among 96 municipalities. Communities surrounding (but not including) Toronto did fairly well (33rd was the highest ranking managed by any municipality in Ontario), but Toronto itself finished 96th out of 96, below municipalities such Joliette, Que. (3rd) and Truro, N.S. (78th).

For candidate Rocco Rossi, Toronto’s low ranking is inexcusable.

“That’s nothing to go home and yell and beat your chest about,” he said. “It’s an early warning signal.”

And his solution?

“(City Hall) continue(s) to plan a $9.2 billion operating budget one year at a time,” Rossi said. “You don’t do that in your business; they shouldn’t do it with your money. We need an immediate freeze on discretionary spending (and) a hiring freeze that then takes advantage of attrition.”

For CFIB spokesperson Andrew, regardless who is elected, small businesses have a bright future in Toronto.

“I’m sure, now, that (the candidates) are going to start thinking about how their positioning works in connection with the sector that creates the opportunity, jobs, everything in the city,” she said.