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Olivia Chow would cancel Scarborough subway — but keep its tax hike

Mar 24, 2014 11:58:47 AM - thestar.com

Olivia Chow would cancel the Scarborough subway extension that requires a 1.6 per cent dedicated property tax increase — but would keep that tax increase in place even after she killed the project.

“We're working within the fiscal plan as passed by council. A fully-costed platform will be released in time. You are correct: we will re-allocate funding for the Scarborough underground,” Chow campaign spokesman Jamey Heath said Monday.

Heath noted that Chow has promised to keep property tax increases “in line with” and “around” the rate of inflation, an imprecise pledge that is nonetheless the clearest yet made by any major mayoral candidate. But Heath would not say whether those near-inflationary increases would come over and above the levy that was intended for the Scarborough project.

“We're going to have a full transit plan, with a full platform, in time. With respect to the Scarborough allotment, we are 10 days into a seven-month campaign,” Heath said in an email. “We have released more specifics than any other candidate. We could do what Mr. Tory does and release only vague puff, pretending it's coherent policy. We aren't doing that. At the same time, with respect, you're asking for considerable detail about one aspect of Olivia's platform without seeing the platform in its entirety.”

The provincial government had planned to pay all of the costs of a seven-stop light rail extension. The three-stop subway project council approved instead, at the urging of Mayor Rob Ford and then-TTC chair Karen Stintz, requires a 30-year local tax, intended to raise $745 million, and a $165 million increase to local development charges.

John Tory, like Ford and Stintz, would build the subway if elected mayor. Chow and David Soknacki, would attempt to revert to light rail. Chow says that move would free up money for other priorities.

“That's why I think the below-ground rail service in Scarborough needs to be changed to above-ground. And by doing that, we are in fact saving a billion dollars. That is a whole lot of money, and Scarborough residents will get the respect, they get the better service, with a billion dollars less — and that will give us the fiscal room to build that relief line, to increase better bus service, to do the housing we need, to fix the housing that is now falling apart — TCHC,” she said on CBC's Metro Morning on Monday.

The tax levy, a 0.5 per cent hike this year, will rise to become a 1.6 per cent total hike in 2016, and it will stay at that level for about 30 years. By 2016, it will cost residents about $40 per year more than they would theoretically pay otherwise.

Inflation is currently low, between 1.1 and 1.5 per cent, which means an inflationary increase plus the Scarborough increase would bring the total increase to somewhere in the realm of 2 and 3 per cent. That would be similar to three Ford-era increases: 2.7 per cent in 2014, 2 per cent in 2013 and 2.5 per cent in 2012. Ford froze taxes in 2011.

Tory, the former Progressive Conservative leader who is the top Ford challenger on the right, has promised to keep taxes “low”; he has not said precisely what he means. He argues that Chow, the former NDP MP who is the sole prominent candidate on the left, “will return to the tax and spend days of old.”

Tory says the downtown relief line subway is his top priority. He has promised a funding plan “in due course.” Stintz says she would sell a majority stake in Toronto Hydro to pay for part of the cost of the line. The proceeds would be less than $1 billion, leaving billions to be covered by other unspecified means.

Canada, Ontario: (Latest Stories)