Candidates take aim at front-runner Chow on taxes in wide-ranging debate
Published Wednesday, May 31, 2023 10:05PM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, May 31, 2023 10:05PM EDT
Olivia Chow once again took most of the firepower as the six leading candidates in Toronto’s race to become mayor squared off in a wide-ranging debate hosted by United Way Greater Toronto, The Toronto Star and Toronto Metropolitan University.
Ana Bailão, Brad Bradford, Olivia Chow, Mitzie Hunter, Josh Matlow and Mark Saunders appeared Monday evening in a packed hall at the Ted Rogers School of Management near Bay and Dundas streets.
While candidates answered questions on affordability, housing, strong mayor powers, support for front-line services for the most vulnerable and a number of other issues, Olivia Chow was questioned multiple times about how much she would raise taxes if she becomes mayor.
In a portion of the debate dedicated to allowing candidates to ask one another questions, all but one candidate asked Chow about taxes.
“How much property taxes should Torontonians be ready to pay under your watch?” Bailão started off.
Chow answered that she supports a moderate tax increase, but said that it doesn’t make sense for her to set a number before having more details about the financial situation of the city next year.
“What we need to do is not to pick a number because we don't know how much the federal and provincial government is going to provide for us, we don't know what the inflation is going to be next year in March,” Chow said. “So to just pick a number I don't think that is a fair way to do it.”
Saunders, Hunter and Bradford also used their question to hammer Chow on what her maximum tax increase would be.
Under fire from Saunders, Chow said she’s talked about other sources of funding as well aside from a possible blanket property tax increase.
“Those people that can afford to buy a new home that is — 5, 10, $20 million, with a private squash court — they can afford to pay a little bit more,” Chow said, referring to her plan to increase the land transfer tax for homes over $3 million.
Saunders shot back that “people are afraid of you being mayor” because of possible tax increases.
“I don't know how many people here have squash courts. Just your average homeowner in the City of Toronto has concerns about you,” Saunders told Chow.
Chow said that she supports modest, not huge, tax increases and said “modest means that those who can afford it pay.”
Hunter chimed in that Chow’s answer “just really is not good enough” before asking her a third time.
Chow has been the front-runner in the race, according to most polls. The other candidates have been fighting a heated battle not just to close the yawning gap with Chow, who has consistently had an at least 10-point lead, but to stake a place as her main challenger.
Moderator Edward Keenan doled out a gently comical reminder that candidates could ask any other candidate on the stage a question.
“Not only that, you can choose any question you want. We don't all have to ask the exact same question,” he joked to laughs.
Matlow obliged and put a question to Saunders about which city services he plans to cut if elected.
Saunders responded that his job as mayor would be to get “maximum value” for tax dollars and he would start by “making sure that we are accountable for the dollars first.”
Chow used her question to ask Bradford why housing approval times have gotten longer while he has been on council, as part of the executive committee and as chair of the housing committee.
“Since I became the chair of Planning and Housing Committee five months ago, we have done more housing policy in the city of Toronto in the past five months than done in the past five years,” he said.
Candidates also got a chance to answer some rapid-fire questions on strong mayor powers and whether the city has primarily a spending or revenue problem in their eyes.
Most candidates said the city’s budget problems can best be described as a revenue problem, while Saunders and Bradford said it is mainly a spending problem.
Saunders and Bradford also said that they would use the strong mayor powers to pass a bylaw with less than a majority of city council support. All the others said they would not.
Voters are set to go to the polls in Toronto on June 26, with advance voting set to start on June 8.