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Toronto MP slams city’s threat of a 16.5% property tax increase if Ottawa doesn’t help out

A Toronto MP is lashing out against the City of Toronto’s proposal to tack on an extra six per cent property tax increase to a base proposal of 10.5 per cent more if the federal government doesn’t provide the city with additional funding to support refugees and asylum-seekers.

The proposed 2024 city budget released last week — the first of Mayor Olivia Chow’s tenure — includes a nine per cent property tax increase, as well as a 1.5 per cent hike to the city building fund.

On top of that however, Budget Chief Shelley Carroll said that if the federal government does not provide the city with more funding to care for refugees and asylum seekers within the next few weeks, she will send a budget to council which includes an additional six per cent “federal impacts levy.”

Carroll said last week that the levy would equate to “the property tax cost of fulfilling a federal responsibility of $250 million.”

Speaking with CP24 Tuesday, Etobicoke Centre MPP Yvan Baker said Ottawa has provided the city with billions of dollars in support but it never seems to be enough.

“We’ve came through for Toronto, I think we’ve comes through for other cities across the country. But other cities aren’t treating us this way,” he said.

He pointed to a $97 million commitment the federal government made in the spring to provide extra support for Toronto to house refugees and asylum-seekers. The commitment came as a crisis was unfolding, with throngs of asylum-seekers sleeping on the streets in downtown Toronto after the city started referring them to federal programs instead of admitting them to the regular waitlist for shelter services.

“Within a day or two, they were saying ‘Oh, no, that’s actually the wrong number — It’s actually hundreds of millions.’ And now they’re telling us it’s $250 million and maybe will be more in the future,” Baker said. “To me that feels a little bit like a shakedown.”

Speaking with reporters Tuesday, Carroll said the city has no control over how many people are let into the country, but has to respond to what happens in the city.

“The number of people that we are having to feed and clothe and shelter in our system, who are asylum seekers and refugee claimants has only as only grown,” she said. “We told them we can’t do this when the system was overwhelmed with 3,600 people on May 31. It’s now 5,800 and it is growing every week. And that is a direct response of federal actions and a federal policy. I do not have control over the border guards at the airport. I have no control over them. It is not my jurisdiction.”

Baker accused Chow of “pointing fingers at other levels of government who have come through for her” and said that the city should have looked for savings before proposing a property tax increase.

According to the proposed city budget, staff identified over $600 million in savings before the latest tax increase was proposed.

“We made more efficiencies and cost avoidances as a proposed staff budget this year than in any single year ever before in my 20 years of being here,” Carroll said. “It’s 620 million in terms of efficiencies and cost avoidances. I’ve asked the CFO to prepare a list that kind of outlines those and explains those to the community and we should see that sometime this week.”

Municipal officials, including former mayor John Tory, have said for years that the federal government has left cities to pick up the tab for caring for asylum seekers who are allowed into the country and end up in municipal shelters. Municipalities around the GTA have issued similar complaints.

The city estimates that at least a third of those using Toronto’s shelter system are refugees or asylum seekers.

Premier Doug Ford previously took a similar line with the city about spending and sent in auditors to assess whether money was being well spent. Following discussions between municipal and provincial officials on obtaining a new deal for the city, the province dropped its audit and agreed to help the city by taking back responsibility for the Gardiner Expressway and the Don Valley Parkway.

Federal officials agreed to join the working group late in the day, but have been less involved.

Chow has previously acknowledged that the federal government might be hesitant to strike a deal with one city without having a framework to provide similar support to other cities across the country. But facing a budgetary pressure of $1.8 billion this year alone, city officials have said it’s impossible to fill the gap without getting more support from other levels of government.

The spat between the city and the Liberal government comes as Toronto gets set to start telephone townhall consultations with the public on its new budget.

The first is set to take place Tuesday night at 7 p.m. Other budget town halls are scheduled for the same time Wednesday and Thursday. To participate, Toronto residents and businesses can call 1-833-490-0778 toll-free.

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