Councillor Josh Matlow

Toronto Star: Ford’s budget chief doesn’t back land tax pledge

December 18, 2011


Mayor Rob Ford’s budget chief declined on Sunday to endorse Ford’s pledge to eliminate the land transfer tax.


The budget chief, Councillor Mike Del Grande, is a staunch fiscal conservative and one of Ford’s most loyal allies. His comments on Councillor Josh Matlow’s Newstalk 1010 radio show underscored the difficulty Ford will have convincing a majority of council to vote to repeal a tax that will generate about $300 million this year.


Ford’s promise to repeal the tax within a year was a central plank in his campaign platform. On Thursday, he vowed to repeal it in phases, beginning with a cut of perhaps 25 per cent next year.


Matlow asked Del Grande if it was a good idea to repeal the tax without a plan to replace the revenue it provides. Del Grande demurred, saying the city’s budget picture was not yet entirely clear because of ongoing efficiency studies and labour negotiations.


He later said: “Going forward, $300 million is a lot of money.” He added, “I think, again, everybody, collectively, has a right to ask that question. That being said, I think the mayor is very keen on fulfilling all his campaign promises.”


Matlow replied, “But even if they don’t make sense?”


Del Grande did not challenge Matlow’s assertion. “What I’m saying, Josh, is he wants to do that because, you well know, that as soon as he doesn’t fulfill one, he’s attacked left, centre and right,” he said.


“I think if people feel that there’s a concern with (eliminating the tax), they would be better positioning themselves to say, ‘Mr. Mayor, we don’t want you to fulfill that promise, it’s okay, for these circumstances and these reasons.’”


The tax, imposed under former mayor David Miller in 2008, adds $5,351 to the cost of a $481,305 home, the city average; a November poll commissioned by the Toronto Real Estate Board showed 65 per cent support for repeal. But its elimination could force council to impose a large property tax hike or make significant cuts to balance the city budget.


Del Grande is the second Ford ally this week to publicly decline to endorse Ford’s pledge, though neither explicitly criticized it. On Thursday, right-leaning Councillor Peter Milczyn said he had advised Ford to direct a portion of the tax toward capital projects rather than cutting it.


Del Grande said he might step down as budget chief at some point in 2012.


“My position at this point is, I just can’t continue the 75-hour, minimum, a week that this job entails,” he said.


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