Premier Dalton McGuinty shrugged off concerns Tuesday that Saskatchewan’s cash-infused efforts to lure graduates west will exacerbate Ontario’s economic woes by poaching its best and brightest.
McGuinty insisted that Ontario still has 100,000 jobs it can’t fill, even though the province has lost about 160,000 jobs since October and its unemployment rate is at a 12-year high.
“My competition is not the rest of Canada,” he said. “My competition is New York, Michigan, Massachusetts, even California. And we are not going to take our eye off that ball.”
McGuinty seemed unconcerned that Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall is headed to Ontario next week to offer college and university graduates up to $20,000 if they move to his province and stay for at least seven years.
The offer is being made to graduates across Canada, but Wall is making the pitch himself in Toronto – his second Ontario recruitment drive in seven months.
Wall hasn’t been shy about his efforts to storm Ontario for skilled labour.
Earlier this month, he hosted a lunch for 86 Ontario families who moved to Saskatchewan following his government’s recruitment push last fall.
Last summer, his ministers led two delegations of Saskatchewan employers to London, Ont., and Windsor – a city where the jobless rate sits at a painful 12.6 per cent.
Manitoba is also setting its sights on Ontario and other hard-hit provinces this spring with a $2-million TV ad campaign to entice disheartened workers to relocate.
Both Saskatchewan and Manitoba have managed to escape the worst effects of the recession and are among the few provinces expected to see growth this year.
Ontario, on the other hand, has fallen to have-not status and is expected to unveil a budget Thursday that will include a massive deficit of about $18 billion over two years.
McGuinty grew testy when pressed about Saskatchewan’s recruitment drive, even suggesting that he can’t blame Wall for trying to poach the “innovative” workers who live in the province.
But it’s no compliment that Ontario has fallen so far that other provinces are able to tempt the jobless with promises of cash bonuses, said NDP critic Peter Kormos.
Workers are already leaving Ontario because they can’t find jobs, and the brain drain will only worsen if the government doesn’t give graduates more incentives to stay, said interim Progressive Conservative Leader Bob Runciman.
“This is a serious situation when our best and brightest could be lost to us forever,” he said. “Once someone gets into a position like that, marries, has a family, they tend to put down roots, and we have lost those people.”
Ontario needs its smart and talented workers to stay in the province to kickstart its sluggish economy, said James Milway, executive director of the Institute for Competitiveness and Prosperity, a government-funded research organization.
“It’s one of those things where once an economy loses (those people), it starts to spiral out,” he said. “If your economy starts to slip and you can’t get it back, it will be hard to get yourself out of that cycle of doom.”
If McGuinty wants to keep those graduates in Ontario, the government should pour money into graduate education to retain its brightest students and attract investment by cutting business taxes, Milway said.
– The Canadian Press