The tax debate meets the race for Queen’s Park

The tax debate meets the race for Queen’s Park

This morning Mayor David Miller, flanked by a bevy of city councillors and surrounded by a supportive audience, launched a public education campaign on his taxation proposal—now called the Fair Tax Plan. Anyone who’s been reading this blog for the last four months knows that this initiative comes about four months too late, but oh well. Better now than never. And yet, it could end before it has barely begun: council is not scheduled to vote on the tax plan before October 22, but Miller is now calling for a special meeting of council to vote on the new taxes before the end of September.

Miller’s proposal consists of a land-transfer tax (levied whenever property ownership changes hands) and a vehicle-registration fee of $60 per year for car owners in the city. The alternative, according to Miller, is a drastic 18% increase in property taxes. (This is a strategy known to this blog as “poisoning the alternative.”) Miller and company intend to hit the hustings, knocking on doors and making converts one at a time—mostly in wards held by councillors who are undecided on the issue, in the hope that supportive residents will push the fence-sitters over to the Mayor’s side.

And yet, Miller is now calling for a special meeting of council as soon as possible to settle the issue, possibly as early as next week. This tack has opposition councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong smelling blood: he says it’s proof that Miller still wants to avoid an all-out public debate on the issue. “If he wants to educate the public, then why does he want to rush a vote on it so quickly?” he asks.

The reason, I suspect, is the provincial election. Back in July, council voted to defer a final vote on the new taxes so they could pressure the provincial parties to pony up for Toronto during the election campaign. So far, that strategy has produced little in the way of results; because the rest of Ontario is always suspicious of Toronto, any party that promises to give Toronto more money will lose votes elsewhere. The way the McGuinty Liberals see the world, their help and support for Toronto over the past four years—a new City of Toronto Act, changes to the Planning Act, money from gas-tax revenues—could cost them their majority at Queen’s Park. They are through helping the city until the city does something to help itself. The Liberals are likely headed back for a second term, and once ensconced they’ll be right pissed with Miller for making their life miserable.

All of which explains why Miller would gladly abandon the public education campaign he launched today if he thought he could win a vote tomorrow, which he suddenly seems to believe he can do. Whether by storm or by stealth, when it comes to these new taxes, Miller (to borrow a phrase from Larry the Cable Guy) just wants to git ‘er done.