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Sky fall: The collapse of the Toronto condo market and the new non-productive economy

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Pity the poor Toronto Mr. Christie's workers.

A factory in business from just after the Second World War, producing baked goods in a west-end Toronto community since 1948, that is now due to be closed. Over 500 well-paying jobs to be lost.

While the closure has been extensively reported on, the fact that it is occurring after a Mitt Romney/ Bain Capital-like takeover has been less discussed.

"Mondelez Canada, who became owners of the factory after the North American split of Kraft Foods Inc. operations earlier this month, made the closure announcement Thursday afternoon to workers."

Mondelez has stated that:

"As previously announced, Kraft Foods Inc. plans to spin-off its North American grocery business, to be named Kraft Foods Group, Inc., at 5 p.m. EDT on Oct. 1, 2012.  Following the spin-off, Kraft Foods Inc. will be renamed Mondelez International, Inc. As our results show, we've significantly changed the trajectory of our business to deliver sustainable, profitable growth."

Given that they owned it for such a short period, it is hard not to think that Mondelez Capital took over the property with the intent to shut it down and to, as they have now openly stated, attempt to sell the property to developers who hope to build condominiums there.

And one has to question the veracity of this comment: “This is a difficult decision, given the role this facility has played within our organization and in the community for 64 years,” said Alvaro Cuba, vice-president of operations for Mondelez Canada in a news release given that it is obviously not true.

Yet, they have made this cynical move just as the condominium market is collapsing in Toronto, and as the city is facing a very likely housing bubble burst. According to the Globe and Mail, "Sales of new condos fell to 3,317 in the latest quarter, the research firm said. In the first nine months of the year, sales slipped to 14,156, and are on track to close out the year with a 35-per-cent decline from last year’s record level of 28,190."

This makes them, in a sense, a metaphor for the final demise of Toronto's productive tradition, and its transformation into a highly polarized community of those who can actually afford to live here and the underclass that gets by serving them.

A generation ago South Etobicoke had several unionized factories that formed the basis of an industrial economy. There was the massive Goodyear Tire Factory, Crown Cork and Seal, and others that existed in New Toronto and Long Branch and that sustained self-contained communities as a result. I remember, as a young man, working security as they closed out Crown Cork and Seal. Going around the empty plant, seeing the empty train stalls and the deconstructed assembly lines. Row after row of empty lockers of the workers who had lost their jobs.

All of these, with a handful of exceptions, closed in the late '80s and early '90s. This had the predictable effect in that it totally destroyed the community that they had been employing people in. South Etobicoke went from a "union town" to a district infamous (to a degree unfairly) as a centre of street prostitution, drug abuse and abandoned storefronts.

Mondelez Capital moves in and yet more jobs are lost to facilitate the farce of the Toronto condo bubble.

Mondelez Capital will now seek to build condos on the graveyards of these jobs, even though the towers they build will likely stand empty for a very long time... if they ever get built.

There is a terrible sadness to this.

Hundreds of people will be thrown out of work, losing jobs that payed well above minimum wage, to see their factory raised to the ground in the hope of attracting yet more members of the lower middle-class to buy empty buckets of sky in a declining housing market.

While this is depressing, what is even more tragic is the realization that this transition is now an ideological and societal fact. And that, fundamentally, no one cares. We have created an ideological space where, somehow, we make believe that we can build real communities without the benefit of real jobs. An hegemony where everyone is middle-class... and where everyone succeeds if they try... despite the obvious reality that no one is actually succeeding.

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They are subsisting off of debt.

The Christie's workers will enter into a job "market" where the most "left-wing" political party in the Ontario legislature is talking about "rewarding" the small business "job creators" who "create" the lowest paying non-union jobs in the province. They can hope for no help at all.

They are also almost certain to make less money when they do find jobs. As the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives notes: "The average wage paid to Canadians has not kept up with inflation. Real average wages declined by 0.6 per cent between 2009 -- the trough of the recession -- and 2011, from $23.11 to $22.99. That may not sound like much, but that’s because the bottom half of the wage distribution losing ground faster than the top half."

That is assuming that they even find jobs. As the same report notes: "It is true that there are 820,000 more jobs now than in the middle of the Great Recession, but there are still 1.4 million people looking for work -- a number that is about 25 per cent higher than before the crisis started, and not steadily declining."

Here in the city of Toronto the dichotomy is very clear.

Toronto's declining industrial base has meant that the city is a study in contrast. There are many people who are very well off. But there are also a huge number that are just getting by in the retail or service sector, are poor, or are unwilling to admit they are poor due to the fact that they came to Toronto to "succeed."

There is also a stunningly large "middle-class" whose lives revolve around houses they bought that they likely could not afford. 

The question ultimately becomes, who will buy these spaces of sky that are being built?

Now that the market is in free-fall, Toronto can expect a serious re-shift. This is an increasingly significant question as a very large number of people are employed in the highly government subsidized construction and real estate industries that have fueled Toronto's economy for a decade. If these jobs disappear, if the condo bubble continues to free fall, where does Toronto stand?

And yet new units are being built even as the market cools.

Can our communities look forward to a Blade Runner-like future of empty, half-finished, and half-completed monuments to our own folly?

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