New taxes on tobacco, bar drinks — even tickets to entertainment events — will be available to Toronto councillors trying to balance future city budgets, the Toronto Star has learned. The new taxing powers would be part of a new City of Toronto Act being hammered out by Queen's Park and the city. If approved, the transfer of powers would give Toronto the ability to raise millions in new revenue annually, and provide council with much greater powers to regulate development. It would also give councillors a much stronger hand in deter- mining the look and feel of the city.
The changes are proposed in a confidential report — Building a 21st Century City, written by top staff at Queen's Park and City Hall — that will be released this week. "We are recommending a dramatic departure from the status quo," the report says. "We are recommending ground-breaking change." The new powers will benefit both levels of government and the people they serve, it adds.
Empowering its capital city will ... position Ontario to successfully compete in a globalized economy and provide a quality of life for its residents that is second to none," the report promises. The report, which goes much further than just new taxing powers, calls for fundamental change in the way municipal government has functioned in Canada since 1867. For the first time, Toronto would not be just a child of the provincial government, bound by restrictive legislation, but free to make its own decisions on most issues within its boundaries.
The scope of the powers proposed to be granted to city hall are not only vast but wide ranging:
• Passing bylaws on just about anything that lets the city run better. Right now, if the city isn't specifically given the power to do something by the province, it can't.
• Regulation of store hours. The city could, for example, decide to let stores stay open on statutory holidays, like Christmas.
• The power to promote development in underused areas by forgiving property taxes or other city fees.
• The ability to hold developers to architectural and urban design standards to improve the look and feel of the city.
• Preventing conversion of rental housing to condominiums to protect affordable housing and set minimum densities for new buildings to encourage intensification.
• Establishing a business owned by the city to meet a defined goal. The city could, for example, start a business to provide cheap Internet access to poor neighbourhoods to improve life there but couldn't open a factory to make designer clothes.
• Powers to implement taxes and fees, which could include taxes on parking, sidewalk snow plowing, additional car registration fees and road tolls.
These are incredibly intrusive powers for a municipal government to weld and are ripe for abuse. In light of the recent municipal scandals it should make your blood run cold while giving any business new reasons to leave Toronto. Not only is Alberta looking better than ever – so is the Western Separatism movement. The question becomes how long will I suffer before I pull up stakes and be Alberta bound myself?