#onpoli newsletter - Three 'boring' things that get the blood boiling

Getting worked up over property taxes, work-to-rule campaigns, and pricing carbon
By Daniel Kitts - Published on Nov 28, 2019
Steve Paikin and John Michael McGrath co-host the #onpoli podcast.

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Hello, #onpoli people,

In this newsletter, we’re going to talk about property tax policy, work-to-rule campaigns, and the debate over carbon tax rates — so hold on to your hats!

These three things may sound a bit boring at first, but they all have a remarkable ability to get people’s blood boiling once they start talking about them. It seems almost every home and business owner has at some point complained about how much property tax they’re paying. Legions of parents have seen red over labour disputes at the local schools. And don’t you think at least a few people will be upset that the carbon tax might someday be ten times higher than it is now?

So let’s read on, shall we?

The do’s and don’ts of property tax reform

#onpoli podcast co-host John Michael McGrath has written about how the province can assess property values in a way that would create a whole lot fewer complaints among the small businesses that pay them. He looks at the case of Le Sélect Bistro, a downtown Toronto restaurant that may have to close because its property tax bill has gone up by more than 500 per cent since 2005.

The province’s municipal-property-assessment corporation, MPAC, assesses plots of land according to their “highest and best use,” not the structures that are currently standing on them. The value of the land that’s home to Le Sélect, a modest two-storey restaurant, is implicitly determined by a consideration of what could be built there — a multi-storey condo tower, for example.

While that sounds deeply unfair, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s time to abandon Ontario’s market-value assessment system, John Michael writes. He talks to two co-authors of a recent paper that says meddling with the current system could create unfair situations in other ways. For example, capping assessment rates for some properties could shift the tax burden onto other property owners. The paper suggests ways of offering tax relief to businesses that need it —while leaving the assessment system alone.

Why a strike is a risky bet for both the province and the teachers

With public elementary and high school teachers starting a work-to-rule campaign this week, political journalist Matt Gurney looks at what the labour dispute means for the province, and what could come next.

Right now, at least, he says no one should stress over the work-to-rule campaign. “The withdrawn services will minimize disruption in the classroom and won't really put much of a squeeze on parents,” he writes. But he adds it’s “a first shot in what could be a nasty battle” in which both sides have a lot to lose. The Ford government is eager to rebrand itself as kinder and more reasonable after a year of negative headlines. A labour disruption in the province’s schools won’t help that effort. At the same time, the teachers’ unions risk overplaying their hand if a prolonged strike turns public opinion firmly against them.

Will this dynamic lead to compromise, or brinksmanship? As Gurney notes, “time will tell.”

If you thought four cents a litre was bad, Premier Ford…

Polls indicate many Canadians support carbon pricing. But Premier Doug Ford is certainly not alone in his belief that the $20-per-tonne federal carbon tax — which, among other things, raises gas prices by about four cents a litre — is an unfair burden on businesses and the middle class.

So Ford and his fellow anti-carbon-tax crusaders can’t have been happy to read this:

In its final report, a privately-funded policy group that calls for market-friendly solutions to climate change concludes that Canada needs a carbon price of $210 per tonne of greenhouse gas emission by 2030 to meet its Paris targets — assuming it relies on the carbon tax alone. That would mean a 40-cent rise in prices at the pump in ten years' time.

The Ecofiscal Commission, which authored the report, acknowledges that carbon taxes are a hard sell with the public because the costs are so visible. But here’s the rub: the commission finds that any other method to reduce greenhouse gases, such as regulations and subsidies, end up costing the public even more. “The punchline really is, the more hidden your policy choices, the more expensive they are,” commission chair Chris Ragan tells the CBC.

Chris Ragan of the Ecofiscal Commission talks to Steve Paikin about the battle over the carbon tax in this January 2019 interview on The Agenda.

And if you don’t pay for carbon emissions now, you’re going to pay in other ways later. John Michael explains this point in a recent #onpoli episode on the long, strange journey of carbon pricing in Canada.

That’s it for now. The #onpoli newsletter is taking a break for a few weeks but will be back in the new year to get you ready for a new season of our podcast. You can always reach us at onpolitics@tvo.org.

Daniel
#onpoli producer

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