Councillor Josh Matlow

Toronto Star: Ford will struggle for votes on land transfer tax

December 15, 2011


Mayor Rob Ford now says the land transfer tax will be reduced next year, perhaps by 25 per cent. But he may not have the votes to fulfill the new pledge.


Several centrist swing voters, such as Councillor Josh Matlow, and council’s left-leaning bloc are vehemently opposed. Even some of Ford’s staunch allies are reluctant to endorse a proposal that would require the city to relinquish tens of millions in revenue.


“My advice to the mayor has been, rather than eliminating a portion of the land transfer tax, direct a portion of it towards capital, building the city — building subways or dealing with our backlog of road repairs or parks and recreation facilities,” said right-leaning Councillor Peter Milczyn, a member of Ford’s executive committee.


Ford’s latest comments on the tax were the most specific of his mayoral tenure. During his campaign, Ford promised to repeal it in less than a year. As election day approached, he said he might have to wait until 2012. He has hedged further as mayor, promising to eliminate it by the end of his term.


In a Thursday interview with CP24’s Stephen LeDrew, he said, “We’re going to start working on that this year.”


“I can’t say we’re gonna wipe it out this year, but it might be a quarter this year, a half next year, or — you know, but we’re gonna do it piece by piece. You’re gonna see a portion of the land transfer tax, I don’t know how much right now, be gone by the end of next year,” Ford said.


The tax, imposed in 2008, adds $5,351 to the cost of a $481,305 home, the city average. A 25 per cent cut would save the buyer of such a home $1,338. But it would also cost the city about $75 million: the tax is expected to generate about $300 million in 2011.


Matlow called Ford’s suggestion “fiscally irresponsible,” saying it would necessitate painful cuts to valued services. Left-leaning Councillor Gord Perks noted that Ford has insisted all year that the city is in dire financial shape.


“On Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays he tells us we’re broke. On Thursdays and Fridays he tells us to cut our income. He doesn’t know how to govern,” Perks said.


In the interview, Ford said he believed work on a Sheppard subway extension could begin rapidly. “We’re gonna get shovels in the ground, hopefully this year or next year, on Sheppard,” he said.


That timeline, however, appears extremely improbable. A preliminary business plan, originally expected by Christmas, has not yet been completed because of a lack of money. Ford’s point man on the project, Gordon Chong, said Tuesday that it would take a year, and between $5 million and $10 million, just to do the work necessary to craft a complete business plan.


Ford’s critics say the $4.7 billion Sheppard extension will never be built at all. While Ford once claimed that the private sector would cover its cost, Chong said companies would only pay for 10 to 30 per cent; governments would have to contribute at least $3.3 billion.


LeDrew also asked Ford whether he would attend any Pride events in 2012. Ford, who controversially skipped this year’s Pride parade to take part in an annual family weekend at a Muskoka cottage, declined to commit even when LeDrew asked whether he would attend events that did not conflict with family obligations.


“Everything depends on my schedule,” Ford said. “Like I said, I get 30, 40 invitations a night. If I can make it, I’ll make it. But I can’t commit to saying what I’ll do tomorrow or even the next day, so going six months down the line? I don’t want to commit to anything right now.”


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