Politics - Provincial

Ontario Budget a Great Opportunity to Repeal Vacant Property Tax Break

By John Neary
Published March 31, 2012

Ontario Conservative Leader Tim Hudak's knee-jerk rejection of the proposed Ontario budget gives Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath a rare opportunity to advocate for more sensible public policy in Ontario.

I'd like to ask Horwath to take a moment to remember her constituents in Hamilton Centre. No, I'm not asking for another Discovery Centre.

In fact, the legislation that I would like to see passed will not cost any level of government a penny. Furthermore, it won't cut services, and it won't raise taxes on Ontario residents or on legitimate Ontario businesses. Finally, it won't favor Hamilton Centre at the expense of any other constituency.

I urge Horwath to demand that the government repeal Section 364 of the Municipal Act as a condition of the NDP's support for the budget.

This statute requires all Ontario municipalities (except Toronto, which is similarly compelled by the City of Toronto Act) to offer a 30 percent property tax rebate to vacant commercial properties, and a 35 percent rebate to vacant industrial properties.

As I have argued before, no public interest or principle of justice is served by rewarding property owners who keep their buildings empty. Moreover, tax breaks encourage speculators to hold onto empty buildings for years in the hope of receiving public funds to fix them up, although the buildings don't always survive.

The tax breaks mandated by section 364 of the Municipal Act have subsidized the neglect and destruction of downtown Hamilton (among other cities) and have starved our municipal government of needed revenue. This policy has never been justifiable; in an age of austerity, it is intolerable.

I don't know why Dalton McGuinty's Liberal government has kept this statute on the books. (Inertia? Ignorance?) I do know that the NDP has more leverage with the government right now than it has ever had before, and I also know that the government is much more concerned with its own survival than with an obscure piece of legislation.

To Horwath and the NDP, I ask: please stand up for your constituents and demand public policy that promotes success rather than failure. Please demand the repeal of section 364 of the Muncipal Act.

You can reach Horwath via email at ahorwath-co@ndp.on.ca or by telephone at 416-325-2777 (Queen's Park) or 905-544-9644 (constituency office).

John Neary lives in Beasley Neighbourhood and practices general internal medicine at St. Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton. He would like Hamilton to develop an urban environment that creates less gainful employment for his profession.

6 Comments

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By Northender (anonymous) | Posted April 01, 2012 at 01:02:25

Might there be some danger that owners would tear down buildings rather than pay full taxes?

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By Osgoode (anonymous) | Posted April 01, 2012 at 08:03:42

In the interests of community power, it's important to remember that those constituents (and those who live outside of Hamilton Centre) can lead as well:

http://www.ontla.on.ca/web/go2.jsp?Page=/bills/private_bills_landing&menuItem=bills_header

http://www.ontla.on.ca/web/go2.jsp?Page=/getting-involved/petitions&menuItem=getting_involved_petition&locale=en

And no, this is not an April Fool's joke.

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By bean counter (anonymous) | Posted April 01, 2012 at 21:02:57

An as the vacant building rots, and thus decreases in value, the owner can claim that loss as a "capital loss" and use it to reduce capital gains income from some other source that they would otherwise have to pay federal tax on. So, you might want to write to Ottawa as well as Queen's Park.

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By know vacancy (anonymous) | Posted April 02, 2012 at 07:16:55

This is a brilliant idea Dr. Neary and simply strikes us off-of such uncommon cents! But you won't get very far in this peanut gallery if you don't butter up our bikes with some Netherlands because we really don't care about "the people"; We likes much better, them pedestrians.

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By Aero (anonymous) | Posted April 02, 2012 at 09:16:06

FWIW, Hamilton's commercial tax rates are around 7% higher than those of its amalgamated suburbs (3.91% vs 3.63%).

Does anyone know if the tax rate for downtown is still punitively high compared to Burlington?

http://www.thespec.com/news/article/7110--downtown-tax-relief-involves-tough-choices

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By Ergo Somethin' Somethin' (anonymous) | Posted April 15, 2012 at 12:13:42

Been watching the NDP convention unfold (three cheers for K'naan) and thinking about the summer ahead of us. Considering how they've responded to the NDP so far, I'm increasingly convinced that the Liberals want an election. The budget defers any aggressive measures for another year, meaning that they would be heading into a less-than-hostile campaign environment. They are carrying the lowest per-member debt of any of the three parties. And they only need to pick up a single seat to disregard the voices of the parties on the other side of the House. Does that sound crazy?

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