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Mayor Tory to consult experts, data to advise him on soaring housing prices

Toronto Mayor John Tory met with Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa about soaring housing prices, among other matters, at city hall on Monday.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

As alarms keep sounding over Toronto's frothy housing market and debates rage over whether the province should impose a tax on foreign real estate buyers, Mayor John Tory says he is calling a panel of experts together to advise him on what should be done.

Mr. Tory, who says he needs more data on the impact of foreign buyers before supporting a B.C.-style tax, announced Monday that he would convene a meeting of housing, planning and financial experts to advise him on possible courses of action on rising house prices when he returns from his upcoming trade mission to India.

The mayor also said he would ask city manager Peter Wallace to prepare a report on the latest thinking of the working group on housing prices set up by federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau and consisting of provincial and city officials, which has been looking at the problem for months.

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Mr. Tory made the announcements after emerging from a meeting with Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa on Monday at City Hall, where Toronto's rapidly escalating housing prices were on the agenda along with the mayor's increasingly bold demands for more provincial funding for transit and social housing in Mr. Sousa's upcoming budget.

While pressure mounts for Ontario to impose a foreign buyers tax similar to the one British Columbia brought in last year to cool Vancouver's out-of-control real estate market, Mr. Tory said he remains "uncertain as to what effective, responsible steps" the city or other governments should take.

"There hasn't been any kind of unanimity on the answer as to what we might do," Mr. Tory told reporters.

Pressure to do something has been building as housing prices, particularly in the Greater Toronto Area, continue to shoot skyward. Mr. Sousa fed the flames last week with comments about a foreign buyers' tax, which is vehemently opposed by the real estate industry. But he clarified that it remained just one policy option among many. The province has yet to even begin to collect data on how many foreign buyers there are, but is supposed to start doing so soon using its land-transfer tax system.

Asked about the foreign buyers' tax on Monday, Mr. Sousa told reporters, as he stood alongside the mayor, that any action Queen's Park takes would be in consultation with Mr. Tory.

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"The degree of which foreign buyers is the issue, opposed to local speculators, is to be determined," Mr. Sousa said, warning that taxes or other government actions could have "unintended consequences."

For much of their postmeeting press conference, the tension between the two governments caused by Premier Kathleen Wynne's move to block Mr. Tory's plan to put tolls on the Don Valley Parkway and Gardiner Expressway was still in plain view.

Mr. Tory told reporters that it was "not business as usual" between city hall and Queen's Park, and he used blunt language as he outlined the city's demands, making a point of mentioning that he would be meeting with all three party leaders before next year's provincial election.

The mayor called for hundreds of millions in funding in the next provincial budget, for transit, housing and for the rehabilitation of the Gardiner Expressway, warning that failing to support Toronto, the province's "economic and financial engine," would be a "grave mistake."

Queen's Park, he said, must match new funding for public transit expected from the federal Liberal budget next week, or projects such as the downtown relief subway line, the Eglinton East light-rail line, and the waterfront transit line cannot make it off the drawing board. Without the relief subway line, Mr. Tory said, he cannot support an extension of the jammed Yonge Line north into York Region, even though that proposed project is popular, the mayor noted, with some of Mr. Sousa's fellow Liberals.

The mayor also warned that if Ottawa and Queen's Park fail to help repair the city's crumbling public housing stock – downloaded onto the city by Ontario years ago – Mr. Tory would hold them responsible as unrepaired units are condemned and left empty: "Let me be very clear: Any closure of such [social housing] units would be a direct result of the inaction of the other governments."

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Mr. Sousa said he was committed to working with the mayor and to both helping Toronto and other Ontario cities, but he made no concrete promises: "The Province of Ontario values a strong Toronto, a strong regional area ... a strong Golden Horseshoe. It is an economic power to all of Canada."

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