One Ontario city is hoping its “cheeky” advertising campaign will persuade Torontonians to pack up and move out of one of Canada’s most expensive regions.

Billboards advertising shorter commute times and more affordable housing are at the core of the “Don’t Tell Toronto” campaign, launched by the City of London following the COVID-19 pandemic.

One billboard on Bathurst Street, which went up shortly after Labour Day, tells motorists “You could be home by now” with “I (heart) London, Ontario” plastered at the top of the sign.

“London is a fast-growing economy. We have attracted several high-profile investments… which has created a labour crunch in the region,” Kapil Lakhotia, the president and CEO of the London Economic Development Corporation, told on Tuesday.

“In order to help address the workforce needs of our region, we launched this campaign a couple of years ago following the COVID pandemic as a lot of talent from the Toronto region was looking at making decision around work-life balance and looking at different parts of the province and the country as other areas to reside in.”

Lakhotia said so far, his team has received more than 5,000 inquires from people interested in defecting to London.

“We have been advertising commute times in London and that seems to have been resonating well to some of the people who have reached out to us,” he said.

“We all love Toronto. This cheeky campaign was designed to poke at the fact that Torontonians are proud as well. There are lots of great things to love about Toronto… Our goal was to highlight the vast amount of opportunities that are available in London and draw attention to some of the lifestyle-related things that people might be considering.”

The Alberta government launched a similar advertising campaign in 2022. The Alberta Calling campaign aimed to lure skilled workers from Toronto and Vancouver to the province with the promise of strong job prospects and a lower cost of living.

Housing affordability has become one of the most pressing issues facing Torontonians as rent and home prices continue to climb.

A report published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives in July found that two full-time minimum-wage workers do not earn enough to reasonably afford rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Toronto.

Another report published by Desjardins last month suggested that even in the event of a recession on par with one of the worst economic downturns in the province’s history, affordability is unlikely to return to Toronto’s housing market anytime soon.

The report authors cited deteriorating housing affordability as one of the main factors driving young people out of the GTA.

“In addition to the fundamental human rights questions raised by severely stretched affordability, our work has previously highlighted the speed with which young people are leaving Ontario, especially the GTA, in search of cheaper accommodations,” the authors of the report noted.

“Thus, despite near record population growth, Ontario risks eventually losing the entrepreneurship and economic dynamism that young people bring.”

Lakhotia said many of the inquiries his team has received have come from families looking to relocate to a city with a lower cost of living.

“Housing is certainly one of the leading criteria,” he said. “Of course, being a secondary community as it relates to Toronto we are able to get more bang for our buck.”