Vowing that "I'm ready," Toronto Mayor John Tory says he is prepared to support new taxes to pay for better transit and other city needs.
Mr. Tory told the editorial board of The Globe and Mail on Tuesday that the city will need new "revenue measures" to pay for billions of dollars worth of projects it has planned for the coming years.
"Am I prepared to come forward and talk to the people and talk to the city council about the absolute need to generate the revenues necessary to finance the capital projects – not limited to transit but it's mostly transit? Yes," he said.
"Yeah, I'm ready. I'm ready."
Mr. Tory ran for election in 2014 on a promise to keep property tax increases at or below the rate of inflation. Facing self-proclaimed tax fighter Rob Ford and, after Rob became ill, his brother Doug, Mr. Tory said that ordinary taxpayers were already well burdened.
But a year after becoming mayor, he announced plans to bring in a "city-building" levy on property taxpayers to pay for improved transit and housing. Now the city is considering a variety of additional taxes.
City manager Peter Wallace has warned repeatedly that city hall can't hope to pay for all of Toronto's future needs just by raiding reserves or tightening its belt a little. Last month, city staff presented a list of a dozen taxes that city councillors could consider, ranging from a parking levy to a municipal sales tax to road tolls.
Mr. Tory did not say on Tuesday which he would support, though he has approached Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne about the possibility of levying a hotel tax. He has said before that he still does not want to raise the property tax above the rate of inflation.
But he said that when he proposed the city-building levy last December, it showed he was willing to bring in new revenues to pay for an ambitious rollout of transit lines and other projects.
"I'm prepared to take the additional steps and put forward the additional proposals, with my colleagues, to pay for this, because there's no point in talking about all this stuff – and having a 15-year plan – if you're not even going to pay for it."
The mayor said he has asked staff experts to look at city spending first to see if they can find money – by delivering services in different ways, for example, or by selling some city assets.
But that, he said, would not be the end of it. Asked if he was talking about taxes, he said, "The answer to your question is yes, that we're going to have to look at other ways to pay for this."
Mr. Tory said he and his colleagues are "earnestly studying" a report by consultants on the pros and cons of various taxes. He said that whatever they ultimately choose should be fair, transparent and dedicated – in other words, the tax money would be dedicated specifically to one purpose, such as transit, instead of just dumped into the general budget.
He said he was confident that the "great majority" of voters would support him and would realize that "I am just being honest with them in saying there is no free transit."
Mr. Tory also defended the controversial Scarborough subway project. He said extending the Bloor-Danforth subway line would help boost a "stagnant" part of the city and spark growth in the underdeveloped Scarborough city centre, where the subway would have its terminus. Though the estimated cost for the one-stop extension has risen to more than $3-billion, he said the cost of the alternative – a light-rail line – is rising, too.
He also said critics of the subway are wrong when they argue that the provincial government would pay the operating costs of the light-rail line, saving the city money.
"There is no agreement whatsoever on paying the operating cost," he said.