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Toronto Mayor Tory says now is not the time to talk about new taxes

Toronto mayor John Tory (L) briefed the media on the budget that will be presented at city hall on Jan 20 2015.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Mayor John Tory says now is not the time to talk about new taxes for the City of Toronto, but he is not ruling them out entirely.

Mr. Tory tried Tuesday to put a damper on discussion of the need to seek new powers of taxation from the province – an idea raised last week by city manager Joe Pennachetti during budget talks and picked up by Councillor Shelley Carroll, a member of the budget committee.

Mr. Tory said his first priority is getting more of the "billions upon billions of dollars" taken by other governments from Toronto taxpayers returned to the city as investments in areas such as infrastructure. After that, he wants to squeeze more savings from the city's own operations.

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"I think I would like to address those two things first before I start into a discussion of asking people to pay more," the mayor said before flying to Ottawa to meet with Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair and federal Transportation Minister Lisa Raitt to drum up support for his transit plan.

The mayor's comments come as council is in the final stages of approving this year's budget, which relies on the unprecedented move of borrowing from capital reserves to balance the city's books.

During talks last week, Mr. Pennachetti said the city is beginning discussions with the province this spring on revisions to the City of Toronto Act and he will be looking for a mandate from council for those negotiations, which could include a request to expand the city's powers to levy a sales or income tax.

Ms. Carroll had intended to ask for a staff report on new taxes at this week's budget meeting, and raised the prospect of reinstating the controversial vehicle registration tax. But by Tuesday, she had reconsidered, planning instead to take the issue to the March council meeting where final approval of the 2015 budget will be given.

Mr. Tory Tuesday said he would "strongly encourage" budget-committee members to vote against such a motion, but Ms. Carroll denied the mayor's opposition had changed her mind.

"It needs work," she said of her planned motion. "It's not something that needs to be moved in a rush in budget, but it is something that we need to look at. This is something that really needs to be a council decision."

Mr. Tory said any discussion of revising the City of Toronto Act should be done in "a very orderly fashion" not by way of "motions that suddenly come on the order paper."

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"I just don't want to do business that way. I want to do business in a careful, thoughtful way," he said.

However it happens, Councillor Joe Mihevc said the debate about new sources of revenue will have to happen at some point this year.

"One way or the other, we cannot sustain the level of service that we have in the city with the current income that we have as a city – something has to give," he said.

Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong said new taxes are not part of this year's budget discussion and should not be part of the debate.

"I think people pay a lot in taxes now and their preference isn't to pay any additional taxes," he said.

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