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To avoid harpooning household budgets with the biggest tax hike in Toronto history, Mayor Olivia Chow could reform Toronto’s construction procurement process. It would save hundreds-of-millions of dollars. And that would virtually wipe out the need for a property tax increase.

Toronto has been overpaying for construction projects to the tune of $350 million a year. That’s according to a report released last year by Cardus, a non-partisan think tank.

Unlike other major Ontario cities, Toronto uses a closed tendering process to award contracts for many of its most expensive construction projects. The closed process means only a select number of construction companies affiliated with a handful of major unions can bid on those jobs.

The city awarded roughly $1.65 billion in construction project contracts through the closed tendering process in 2023. Because of that, Toronto lost out on roughly $350 million due to overpayments last year.

The closed tendering process used to be a common practice in Ontario. But soon after the Ford government took office in 2018, it passed legislation releasing municipalities from the obligation of using a closed tendering process for major construction projects.

Almost every major city in Ontario opted out of the closed tendering process soon after.

Nearby Hamilton was one of the first cities to opt out and usher in a new open tender process. The Cardus report estimates Hamilton is saving 21 per cent on its total construction costs, which significantly improved the city’s budget outlook during the final years of former mayor Fred Eisenberger’s term.

Unfortunately, Toronto politicians have thus far refused to follow the lead of Hamilton and most other major Ontario municipalities. During the 2023 mayoral by-election, Councillor Brad Bradford and Anthony Furey committed to ending the closed tendering procurement process. Toronto’s new mayor, Olivia Chow, decided to defend unions instead of taxpayers.

Chow is currently trying to push through a property tax increase of $443 million. Cardus estimates Toronto would save roughly $350 million a year from construction procurement reform. Making that change could reduce the need to raise property taxes from $443 million to $93 million, or from 10.5 per cent to 2.2 per cent. This would allow Toronto to have one of the lowest property tax hikes in southern Ontario instead of the highest.

Chow and her allies at city hall are deliberately choosing to overpay on construction contracts as a means of favouring their union pals. But at a time when Chow says the city is broke and taxpayers don’t have extra cash to send to city hall, common sense procurement reform should be a no-brainer.

It’s time for Chow to realize that she needs to prioritize protecting taxpayers, not big unions. For five years, Toronto has been free to end its closed tendering process, but politicians have made the conscious choice not to. Add up all the overpayments over the years and Toronto taxpayers have been on the hook for billions.

If Toronto really is broke, as Chow claims, there’s never been a more important time to consider substantial reform. With 400,000 Ontarians working two jobs just to pay the bills and half of Canadians $200 away from not being able to make ends meet, asking taxpayers to pay more should be an act of last resort, not first resort.

Chow has until Feb. 1 to present the final draft of her budget to council. She still has plenty of time to lower costs and lower the property tax tab for struggling Torontonians. It’s time for Chow to do the right thing, take on big unions and protect hardworking taxpayers.

Jay Goldberg is the Ontario Director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.


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The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.


Toronto politicians have been on a spending binge for years. Instead of forcing them to reckon with the massive debt load they’ve racked up, Ontario Premier Doug Ford caved and bailed them out like a parent paying down a reckless teenager’s credit card bill.

The so-called “new deal” announced by Ford and Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow includes $1.2 billion over three years to help the city tackle its budget deficit.

Ford’s Toronto bailout won’t solve all of the city’s problems. Before Kris Kringle from Queen’s Park came along, Toronto was facing a deficit of $1.5 billion. Thanks to Ford’s bailout, that deficit should fall to about $1 billion.

But Chow still has to come up with $1 billion. The city plans to spend much more than it brings in this year, but cities in Ontario aren’t allowed to run operating deficits. They can borrow money, but only for capital projects.

Step two in Chow’s bailout plan appears to be making a pilgrimage to Ottawa to beg for more cash.

But here’s the cold hard truth: neither Queen’s Park nor Ottawa should be bailing Toronto out of this mess. The city created it and the city should have to deal with it.

Both the province and the federal government are currently running budget deficits. They should be getting their own fiscal houses in order and encourage Toronto to do the same.

It’s worth exploring how Toronto actually got itself into this mess.

Let’s take a stroll down memory lane.

In the last budget passed under former mayor Rob Ford in 2014, the city of Toronto had a spending budget of $9.6 billion.

Then along came John Tory.

During Tory’s nine years as mayor, Toronto’s budget increased by $6.5 billion.

If Tory and his allies on city council had simply kept spending growth in line with inflation, Toronto’s budget this year would be $4 billion less than it is.

Instead of facing a deficit of more than $1 billion, Toronto would have a massive surplus.

Even when population growth is added to the mix, Toronto is overspending by billions of dollars this year.

The numbers are clear: Toronto is in this mess because city hall spent away every last dollar it had. No money was ever set aside for a rainy day.

Toronto doesn’t have a revenue problem. It has a spending problem.

That’s why Chow needs to immediately do a top-to-bottom review of every line item in the city’s budget and reduce government spending.

It’s also worth remembering the money Ford is handing over to Chow didn’t just fall from the sky. It comes out of the pockets of taxpayers all across the province.

Ford isn’t giving Windsor a special cash infusion. London isn’t getting an early Christmas present. Sudbury isn’t getting Ford bucks.

Why should taxpayers from everywhere else in Ontario have to bail Toronto out from a mess of its own making?

During his press conference with Chow, Ford tried to justify his bailout by claiming Toronto plays a special role as the economic engine of the province.

That may be true. But Toronto has been the economic engine of the province for decades. It hasn’t needed a special billion-dollar bailout package until now.

Ford is helping Toronto city hall avoid reckoning with its own mistakes.

Every parent eventually learns the lesson Ford will surely face down the line: if you pay down your kid’s credit card bill without any consequences, the situation is bound to occur again.

Chow wants to spend billions of dollars more than the city is spending today. Most of city council seems willing to do just that.

Ford shouldn’t be surprised if he finds himself back in this very same situation a few years down the road.

Bailouts without consequences are sure to bear repeating.

Jay Goldberg is the Ontario Director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation

 

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.


This content is restricted to subscribers

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.


This content is restricted to subscribers

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.


This content is restricted to subscribers

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.


Ontario Premier Doug Ford is hitting the cities of Toronto and Ottawa with a wrecking ball that will undermine accountability and democracy.

The Ford government introduced Bill 39 as an attempt to break the gridlock often experienced on city councils in Toronto and Ottawa. The major reason Ford introduced the legislation is to prioritize the speedy approval and construction of new housing in some of Ontario’s most dense communities.

The main feature of the bill is that it gives the mayors of Toronto and Ottawa so-called strong mayor powers.

On the surface, the bill looks promising. Bill 39 would allow mayors in Toronto and Ottawa to have more control over appointments and establishing priorities for council. It would also allow those mayors to have more control over the budgetary process. And, by allowing mayors to establish priorities and have more control over council’s agenda, it could, in theory, help with the housing issue.

But that’s where the good parts of the bill end.

The most dangerous element of Bill 39 is that it would allow the mayor to pass laws that only receive the support of one third of council.

In a democracy, allowing just one third of council, if aligned with the mayor, to pass any law under the sun is extremely dangerous.

From Ford’s perspective, this bill also makes little sense. Right now, John Tory is the mayor of Toronto and Mark Sutcliffe is the mayor of Ottawa.

Both men appear to be amenable to parts of Ford’s agenda.

But, in theory, both mayors could also hold the province hostage. Imagine a scenario in which a duly elected mayor and a small minority of councillors choose to pass policies that run directly counter to provincial priorities.

Not too long ago, David Miller was mayor of Toronto. He pushed through some of the largest property tax hikes in the province’s history.

If Miller had only needed the support of one-third of council to raise property taxes, tax hikes could have soared. Instead of a 10 per cent hike, homeowners could have been looking at a 20 per cent increase.

The need to win the support of a majority of councillors is a key mechanism in ensuring that extreme policies don’t turn into ill-fated laws.

Ford claims Bill 39 is democratic. According to the premier, mayors are duly elected by voters, so giving them more control over the agenda isn’t undemocratic.

Giving mayors more of a say in setting the agenda is a good thing. But there’s a reason that we don’t elect municipal dictators. We elect councillors to help shape the agenda, allow for more diverse voices at the table, and ensure that every corner of the city is represented at city hall.

Handing one third of council the power to pass any law they want so long as they have the mayor’s backing is minority rule. In no other democratic institution in Canada do we allow a minority of elected representatives to impose an agenda opposed by a majority of elected officials.

If he finds this new mayoral power system successful, Ford plans to extend these powers to municipalities across the province. Democracy in Toronto and Ottawa isn’t only at stake – Ontarians all across the province have a stake in this fight.

Bill 39 needs a fundamental re-write. Today, mayors all across the province don’t have enough power and influence. Ford’s desire to give them a stronger voice is sensible. But allowing one third of council the ability to hold the cities of Toronto or Ottawa hostage is a major mistake.

Jay Goldberg is the Ontario Director at the Canadian Taxpayers Federation

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.


Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s promise to hand the mayors of Toronto and Ottawa more powers could be a dangerous gateway to higher taxes and runaway government spending.

Hardworking taxpayers wouldn’t trust one person selected by someone else to unilaterally manage their household expenses and retirement savings, and yet that’s essentially what Ford might have up his sleeve for the residents of Toronto and Ottawa when it comes to the cities’ finances.

Ford has yet to officially outline all of the “strong mayor” powers he intends to give to the mayors of Toronto and Ottawa, but unilateral taxation and spending powers and mayoral vetoes appear to be on the table.

Giving mayors the power to tax and spend is courting disaster by gambling on who is in the mayor’s chair.

Take yourself back to 2009. The Pittsburgh Penguins won the Stanley Cup, General Motors was still making Pontiacs and David Miller was the mayor of Toronto.

Toronto taxpayers are still scarred by the historic property tax hike Miller forced on homeowners that year. Miller managed to convince members of Toronto’s city council to impose a 10 per cent hike in property taxes.

If Miller had the power to set tax rates and spending levels unilaterally, a 10 per cent property tax hike could have ballooned even further. Toronto taxpayers could have been staring down a 15 per cent or 20 per cent hike to finance Miller’s costly government spending schemes.

Some may argue that a fiscally responsible mayor could use unilateral taxation and spending powers to keep taxes low and government spending in check.

But for every fiscally responsible mayor, there’s a David Miller. That reality means handing mayors unilateral taxation and spending powers is a terrible idea. Without city council to keep a mayor in check, there’s no telling how high taxes could be raised or how much wasteful spending could be approved.

Mayoral vetoes would raise similar concerns. Ford has said publicly that part of his “strong mayor” proposal would include a mayoral veto, which could be overridden by two-thirds of city council.

Once again, whether these new powers would be good or bad for taxpayers depends on who is in the mayor’s chair.

A fiscally responsible mayor might veto wasteful government spending proposed by council. But a mayor willing to engage in reckless spending could also veto a fiscally responsible budget plan.

There’s also another risk: mayoral candidates could sell themselves as sound managers of taxpayer dollars, but embrace runaway taxes and government spending once in office.

Toronto Mayor John Tory is a perfect example. When he ran for mayor in 2014, Tory pledged to restrict the growth of property taxes to the level of inflation. But Tory has since embraced higher property taxes. This past January, Tory threw his support behind a proposal to raise property taxes by 4.4 per cent.

Even if voters think they’re electing a mayor who will responsibly manage the city’s finances, there’s no telling how much a candidate will change after being sworn into office.

The bottom line is that handing mayors new powers to get around the check-and-balance role of council is a dangerous gamble. Depending on who is in the mayor’s chair, taxpayers could benefit or get soaked with higher taxes and reckless government spending. The risks simply aren’t worth the potential gains.

Ford should shelve his plan to give new powers to the mayors of Toronto and Ottawa. Instead, he should focus on reforms that could bring real relief to taxpayers through more responsible city budgeting.

Jay Goldberg is the Ontario Director at the Canadian Taxpayers Federation

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.


This content is restricted to subscribers

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.