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.
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