Mayor suffers first major setback as council defers vote

Andrew Wallace/torstar news service


Toronto Mayor David Miller gestures while Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti looks on during yesterday afternoon’s council meeting at city hall.

“We will be deciding ... if we have the ability to continue the basic services that Torontonians take for granted and need to live in a decent city.”

Property taxes will soar and programs for the city’s needy may be slashed as a result of Toronto council’s decision to defer levying two new taxes, says Mayor David Miller.

By a 23-22 vote last night, councillors put off a decision on levying new land-transfer and vehicle-registration taxes until Oct. 22. The two measures would have netted the city $356 million. Without that revenue, Miller said, his election promise to keep property taxes in line with inflation is “going to be very difficult to keep.”

The vote was a stinging political defeat for Miller, the first major setback of his new term — though there may have been some consolation in a unanimous vote for the mayor’s climate change plan later in the evening.

The city recently won the power to levy new taxes under the City of Toronto Act, which Miller claims as one of his political victories.

Miller’s political strategy was to impose the new taxes, then tell the provincial and federal governments it’s time for them to do what they can to solve the city’s financial problems. It didn’t happen.

And Miller warned councillors that programs are likely to suffer as a result — such as swimming lessons for a boy he knows who lives in public housing.

“We will be deciding not only if we have the ability to invest, but even if we have the ability to continue the basic services that Torontonians take for granted and need to live in a decent city,” he said.

Those who supported deferring the vote said it will allow the city to pressure provincial politicians — who face an election Oct. 10 — to ease the city’s financial burden so the new taxes aren’t needed.

Instead, councillors voted for a motion by Councillor Suzan Hall (Ward 1, Etobicoke North) to put off the decision. “A provincial election is coming up,” Hall said. “We should use this lever.”

The vote was a “victory for taxpayers,” said Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong (Ward 34, Don Valley East), who dismissed Miller’s warning of service cuts as “fear mongering.”

But Councillor Adrian Heaps (Ward 35, Scarborough Southwest) bitterly denounced the deferral. “Constantly running to the province all the time ... is not a moment of self-determination, it’s a moment of cowardice,” he said.

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