A joint meeting of The Empire Club of Canada and The Canadian Club of Toronto
Mayor of Toronto
Investing in our Young People
Chairman: Rod Phillips
President, The Canadian Club of Toronto
Head Table Guests
William G. Whittaker, QC, Lette Whittaker Barristers & Solicitors LLP, and President, The Empire Club of Canada; Bill McClean, Vice-President, Manufacturing Development and Operations, IBM Canada Ltd.; Dr. Ken Connelly, President and CEO, Goodwill Industries Toronto; Verity Craig, Managing Director, CV Management, and Director, The Empire Club of Canada; Norman Bacal, Co-Managing Partner, Heenan-Blaikie LLP; Buzz Hargrove, National President, Canadian Auto Workers Union; Kim Warburton, Director, Government and Community Relations, Bell Canada; Ucal Powell, Executive Secretary Treasurer, Carpenters' Union, Central Ontario Regional Council; Dr. Sheldon Levy, President, Ryerson University; Alix Rustey, Grade 12 Honour Student, North Toronto Collegiate Institute; and Ivan McFarlane, President, Findhelp Information Services, and Director, The Canadian Club of Toronto.
Introduction by Rod Phillips
Thank you very much for having me here today. I came here today to deliver a very simple message.
Let me get straight to the point. I've come here today to talk about the role Toronto businesses need to play in the safety of our city. That role is straightforward: I want Toronto's business community to provide jobs and other opportunities to young people who do not have them.
I know that every person in this room is aware of recent events in our city; shootings have led the news and dominated conversations for months. I hear about it from the media, from other politicians, and from people I meet on the street and in the subway every day. People want us to keep this city safe, and they know that there is only one good time for us to act, and that time is now.
Toronto is a safe city.
I don't say it's safe to diminish our outrage at the murders that have rocked our city; every life ended by a bullet punches a gaping hole in the fabric of our community.
I don't say this city is safe in an effort to avoid my responsibility to face these crimes head-on. My office and the city council must lead the effort to keep our streets safe, and I have accepted this duty without hesitating. We have led, and we will continue to lead, the effort to keep our streets safe and our neighbourhoods strong.
The reason I feel it necessary to remind people that our city is safe is that I am concerned. I am concerned that people might become discouraged. That people will start to accept these kinds of crimes and somehow see them as part of the normal course of events. I am worried that people will start to think of gun crime as an inevitable aspect of life in Toronto. And I am worried that people will think that nothing can be done.
The reason I'm here today is because there is so much to be done. The City of Toronto has been working to keep our communities safe since long before this latest spate of violence. I will talk about some of the things we are doing, but first I want to say more about why it is so important to provide employment and job training to young people.
We have proven over and over again that education, job training, and jobs that give young people hope and opportunity, help turn young people away from criminal activity. We can't prevent the murders that have already happened in our city. But if we take the initiative now, and give young people in our city a decent chance, we can prevent many potential crimes before they happen.
Nobody is better equipped to give this kind of chance to Toronto's at-risk youth than the people in this room today.
Through the city's Community Safety Plan, we have already seen what a difference it makes to put young people to work, even if it is only for a few weeks in the summer.
The Community Safety Plan is a comprehensive group of initiatives aimed at balancing enforcement with prevention. We know that the greatest deterrent to committing a crime is the fear that you will be caught. Police Chief Blair and the Toronto Police Service send that message loud and clear with every new arrest and with every charge laid.
Recently, we have taken advantage of a provincial program that has allowed us to hire 150 new police officers. Adding to the force on its own, though, isn't enough. We're also changing the role of officers in our community.
The police have increased their focus on community policing, and developing a partnership with the community. This both helps turn young people away from crime, and emboldens witnesses to come forward when a crime has been committed.
With the leadership of Chief Justice Roy McMurtry, who is Chair of the city's Community Safety Panel, the city has been focused on prevention. We have been working with the school boards, other governments, businesses and community groups to invest in young people's futures and to give them an opportunity.
In the two years since the program has been in place, the city has worked with many partners to make a difference in the lives of hundreds of young Torontonians. Through the plan:
The provincial government funded summer jobs for youth from vulnerable communities this year and last.
Centennial, Seneca, and Humber colleges have provided training to give young people the skills they need to find meaningful work.
Companies like Heenan Blaikie, Goodwill, and IBM have agreed to employ young people, and also to train them, so they get the most out of their employment opportunities.
Carpenters Union Local 27 enabled 11 young people to participate in a nine-week pre-apprenticeship training program, opening the door for them to future skilled employment.
Together, we have helped hundreds of young Torontonians, but we need to help thousands. The city is expanding its programs wherever it can. I am pleased to be able to tell you that we will be expanding our Community Safety Plan from the current four target neighbourhoods to seven. At the same time, a separate city-led Strong Neighbourhoods Task Force is helping us to focus our community programs and facilities in many other neighbourhoods where there are not enough resources.
I attended a meeting of the GTA caucus of the federal government a few days ago. I was very pleased to see the politicians that Torontonians elected getting together to talk about this important issue, and I went there to deliver a clear message. My message was that the time for talking is over.
It's time for our federal partners to act.
The city has shown what needs to be done. There are already many successful programs in place and they must be expanded across the city. For the federal government, that means providing new money for programs like Pathways to Education. This program has cut the dropout rate in the Regent Park neighbourhood from just under 60 per cent to well under 25 per cent. That is a huge change. There is no better service we can give our young people than to find ways like this to keep them in school.
People expect this kind of investment from governments at every level. They expect community organizations and educational institutions to be involved.
I want you to know that I believe Toronto businesses also have a responsibility to invest in their city. A responsibility, and also an opportunity.
This is an opportunity to attract young employees who have the potential to contribute to the growth of your business. These are kids who are bursting with energy and ideas, who only need the opportunity to show what they can do.
As mayor of Toronto, I have the privilege of speaking regularly with community leaders, local business people, and young people all over the city. I have heard many stories of people who have excelled when they were given even the smallest window of opportunity. And sadly, I have also heard the tragic stories of those who had no chance at all.
Whenever the subject of violent crime comes up in conversation, people's reaction is always the same. They are distraught, shocked, and sometimes horrified. But at the same time, people all over the city are quick to ask the question, "What can I do?"
Torontonians' willingness to do their part for their city is one of the things I love so much about living in this city. Torontonians know how to pull together. They know how to work in partnership across neighbourhoods, across cultural boundaries, and across religious, racial and financial differences. It's this spirit that inspired me to be here today to talk about investing in our young people.
I have been using the term "investment" and I assure that I use it advisedly. I am not here today to ask you to give to charity. The proposal I have presented you with today can help make your business stronger, and our city safer. It is actually about the wisest investment you could make.
In addition to your self-interest, though, I hope that you also agree that this is a good idea because it is the right thing to do. We all owe it to our young people to give them a chance. We all owe it to our residents to divert young people toward jobs, and away from guns.
I recognize that it costs money to hire people. I recognize that some companies are small enough that adding even one or two people to the payroll makes a big difference.
But consider Heenan Blaikie, an excellent law firm, but not a large corporation. Heenan Blaikie brought in four young people from communities identified in the Community Safety Plan to work in their offices as paid interns. At the end of the planned period, things had worked out so well that one of these interns was offered a permanent position.
This is one example, and we need thousands more like it in Toronto. The unemployment rate for people between the ages of 15 and 24 is almost 14 per cent in Toronto--far higher than the overall rate. And let's be clear: there are many young people from groups who face systemic barriers, and the unemployment rate among these groups is higher still.
We have to ensure that our efforts reach the right people. We have to make sure that people who face barriers because of race or poverty gain access to the same opportunities that are available to others. I often speak about how every resident in this city deserves to enjoy the benefits of living in Canada's economic capital. When I talk about hiring at-risk youth, I'm talking about hiring people who have been subject to disadvantages and discrimination. I'm talking about living up to the principle that we have to make this city work for everyone.
Hiring at-risk youth doesn't necessarily mean adding to the number of people on your payroll. Sometimes it can merely involve a shift in priorities when hiring opportunities come up naturally. I'm proud to say that the City of Toronto is a good example of this.
Our Parks and Recreation Department for instance concluded that resources were lacking in some of the communities targeted by the Community Safety Plan. It is in the process of filling these gaps. But even before this, it was already hiring young people from these communities who were in danger of slipping through the cracks and being left behind.
I firmly believe that the city council and my office must lead the effort to assist at-risk youth. We must lead both by setting a course, and by setting an example. My office is not large--a little more than 20 people--but we hire interns every year, and next summer at least one will come from an at-risk community.
On its own, this is a small step. But today, in addition to my request to the business community, I also want to challenge city councillors and Toronto politicians from other governments to do whatever they can to employ young people who need an opportunity. I also extend this challenge to hospitals, universities, and other public institutions. Let every one of us lead by example.
In addition to all the other disadvantages many young people face in our city, there are often basic logistical challenges in connecting them with employers. Through our Community Safety Secretariat, the City of Toronto is working to overcome these barriers as well. The secretariat has been working with community agencies and with businesses to ensure that jobs go to the people who need them most.
If your company is willing to take up this challenge, they should contact Linda McGrath, who works in youth employment programs at the city. We have her contact information available here today.
The secretariat is working to ensure that the people who benefit from these jobs are those who truly need the opportunity. At the same time, they work with employers to make sure that the jobs themselves are truly beneficial.
Providing jobs for at-risk youth is about much more than putting a few dollars in their pocket. This is about giving young people hope for their own future. That means that the jobs have to be meaningful, teach skills, and lead to other opportunities.
A good example of this comes from Goodwill, another company that has already come forward to employ at-risk youth. Not only have they agreed to give 100 at-risk young people in this city paid work, Goodwill is giving them skills training, making them qualified to move on and up in the working world.
Let me close by revisiting that term I have used so much today--"at-risk." It is an inherently optimistic term. We have neighbourhoods that are "at risk" of being left behind. But we will not allow them to be left behind.
We have young people who are "at risk" of getting involved with crime. But we must give them the hope and opportunity that will keep them away from crime.
We have a city that has been touched by violence. We are "at risk" of allowing this violence to become part of the backdrop. But we must not let violence become part of Toronto's backdrop.
I sincerely hope that you share my commitment to make sure these risks never become realities.
Today I have been talking about rectifying some of the injustices and inequities in our city. But I want to close by reminding you of another consistent sentiment I hear every day: optimism. Despite the headlines shouting about violence, and despite the tragic stories behind these headlines, Torontonians know that there is something special and wonderful happening in this city right now.
We are growing, and changing, and expanding--taking our place as one of the great world cities of the 21st century. You can see it in our evolving skyline, in the changes that are starting to happen on our waterfront, and in smaller ways in every neighbourhood in the city.
Investing in our young people is part of this change. It's about making sure that every Torontonian gets the opportunity they deserve. It's also about building a prosperous, creative, welcoming city. When Toronto succeeds as a city, its businesses succeed also.
In closing, I would like you to think beyond the specific proposal I have presented here today. I'd like to invite you to consider other ways to change the role your company plays in our city. As Toronto changes, business leaders have the chance to be more than business leaders; they can be city builders. This city belongs to all of us, and I believe we share a common vision for its future.
I sincerely hope that you will work with me, with the Community Safety Secretariat, with labour and community groups, and with the young people of this city to make Toronto a place that fills every resident with pride, and with hope.
Thank you very much.
The appreciation of the meeting was expressed by William G. Whittaker, QC, Lette Whittaker Barristers & Solicitors LLP, and President, The Empire Club of Canada.
Members and guests of the Canadian Club of Toronto and the Empire Club of Canada, I have the honour to express your formal thanks to Mayor Miller.
Community safety and personal security are important concerns for our citizens. However, I am glad Mayor Miller reminded us today that in spite of recent events, Toronto is a safe city.
Our civic policies must continue to be inclusive so that all of our citizens have the opportunity and the ability to participate fully in Toronto's economic, social, and political life, particularly in this--one of the most multicultural cities in the world. In his speech, Mayor Miller provided us with examples, which achieve these goals. Another example of Mayor Miller's initiative in this regard (which my wife Carolyn who teaches at Centennial College insisted I mention) is the Malvern Project--a free summer school experience at Centennial College's Progress Campus where disadvantaged youth received hands-on training in various fields to prepare them for college-level studies. At the end of summer school, these young people received Centennial College certificates at a special graduation ceremony, which their proud families and friends attended together with Mayor Miller and Chief Justice McMurtry.
David McFarlane, in his recent Toronto Life article on Mayor Miller, stated that the role of a Toronto mayor is an odd combination of the political and the diplomatic, the ceremonial and the activist and a curious amalgam of power and powerlessness, responsibility and dependence. With only one vote on Council, our mayor has to be a leader and inspire others, characteristics our 70th mayor has in abundance.
Mayor Miller, I understand that an important part of your very cold and wet July 2002 canoe trip on the Burnside River in western Nunavut were the discussions you had with your friends about what you wanted to accomplish as Toronto mayor. In your speech today, you described to us clearly what you have done, what you are doing, and what you want to do to provide opportunities for our disadvantaged youth and the challenges you have issued to our businesses, politicians and public institutions to invest in our youth.
On behalf of our audience today, I thank you for your remarks.