Olivia Chow

Olivia Chow pushing banks to force workers back to office and people are not amused

Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow is looking for ways to bring Toronto’s downtown core back to life. According to the Toronto Star, Chow has been meeting with the CEOs of some of Canada’s largest banks to discuss how to get Toronto workers back in the office at least four or even five days a week.

“Well, it’s important to make sure our financial district is vibrant,” Chow told the Star, adding that she is concerned about Toronto becoming a ghost town like other cities in the U.S. dealing with what she calls “doom loops”, which have led to an uptick in local crime and homelessness. “That’s not healthy.”

When COVID-19 hit Canada in early 2020, many businesses closed their doors, which led to a large percentage of Canadians working remotely for over two years. Although the share of employees who work exclusively from home has gradually declined since the winter of 2022, part of the return to in-person work has taken on the form of hybrid arrangements.

A study released last summer from LinkedIn’s Economic Graph research team found that Toronto leads Canada’s largest cities in the demand for hybrid work, with 31.7 per cent of job applications opting for positions that involve both in-person and remote work. The report highlights TD Bank and The Royal Bank of Canada, headquartered in downtown Toronto, as examples of large companies that have introduced hybrid work models in recent years.

With these large office towers still partially empty, activity in Toronto’s downtown core is still down. According to the Strategic Regional Research Alliance, Toronto’s office activity was only 12 per cent of pre-pandemic levels in March 2022; this number increased to 43 per cent one year later and reached 63 per cent in March 2024, which is still well below pre-pandemic levels. Available office vacancy rates are over 10 per cent.

This has also affected local shops and restaurants in the downtown core who are struggling to stay afloat with fewer workers around.

Chow—who also spoke with other executives, including at Deloitte, Cadillac Fairview, RioCan, and the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System—told the Star that the decision to ask employees to spend more days in office depends on the job and the company. She added that employees come to City Hall “three to four days” a week, and that “having people in a space allows for more interaction, allows for mentorship, allows for a better sense of belonging. And those are important elements to whether it’s a business or an office or City Hall.”

Still, some on social media aren’t too happy with where this is heading, with many bringing up the impact that a mass return to the office would have on the environment, personal well-being, and childcare costs.

“I’ve never been more disappointed or angry with the outcome of my vote than I have been with @MayorOliviaChow” one X user posted.

With recent TTC issues and travel times on the Gardiner Expressway having increased an estimated 250 per cent, Chow told the Star that congestion was a good part of her conversations with the CEOs. She said the City has made the King Street streetcar three times faster by adding traffic agents, and they are  working to better co-ordinate construction around the city.

Article exclusive to STREETS OF TORONTO