Goldberg: Ottawa Mayor pulls a reverse Robin Hood with tax breaks

cns robin hood
cns robin hood

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Hundreds of small businesses are rightly asking: Why should the city government give billion-dollar corporations handouts when my shop can barely pay the bills?

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Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson seems to want to play the role of Robin Hood, but he’s got it backwards. Instead of stealing from the rich to give to the poor, Watson is taking tax dollars from struggling taxpayers and handing them over to wealthy corporations.

We already know that Ottawa Council, led by Watson, is giving $2.9 million worth of tax breaks so a company can build a new Porsche dealership in Vanier. But while this may seem like a one-off lapse in judgment, if you look further it’s clear that this sweetheart deal is only one of many examples of the city handing out millions to select businesses.

The city has given at least $70 million to developers to finance 35 projects since 2012 on a quest to “revitalize” certain neighbourhoods, including Vanier.

These grants run through the much-criticized Brownfields Community Improvement Program, which was originally designed to encourage the redevelopment of certain areas of the city but has been used in recent years to give large corporations big handouts.

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Some of the most egregious giveaways include $3.2 million for the expansion of the Rideau Centre, $1.7 million to Walmart to open a new super-centre, and $4.5 million for a new Costco location.

A true Robin Hood would be finding ways to help taxpayers, not coming up with special deals for companies that already have more money than Prince John ever did.

A key problem is that city councillors have no way of knowing if these tax breaks are supporting projects that would not have gone ahead without subsidies.

It’s difficult to imagine that a $1.7-million handout made the difference when Walmart, a company that made over $500 billion in 2020, was deciding whether to open a new location on the outskirts of Ottawa.

But even if a government handout was a deciding factor in choosing the location of a new Walmart superstore, why should its competitors be forced to subsidize the multinational megastore?

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There are hundreds of small businesses across Ottawa that have lost so much during multiple pandemic lockdowns. Those small business owners are rightly asking: Why should the government give billion-dollar corporations handouts when my shop can barely pay the bills?

It’s not just small business owners who feel betrayed by the city of Ottawa’s endless corporate handouts. Taxpayers are also rightly infuriated. Watson is doing favours for large companies at their expense.

City Council’s 2021 budget called for a three-per-cent increase in property taxes. With about 37,900 Ottawans out of work in the first quarter of 2021, and many others facing reduced hours because of the pandemic, taxpayers cannot afford such high tax bills.

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Yet, the $2.9-million tax break for the Porsche dealership will ultimately come out of the pockets of other Ottawans in the form of higher property taxes.

These government giveaways must stop. Hardworking taxpayers shouldn’t have to see their tax dollars given to big companies to open new stores that they very well might have opened regardless.

If Watson really wants to attract businesses to Ottawa, he should fight to lower property taxes so that all businesses, old and new, can create jobs in their neighbourhoods.

He should also reread the Robin Hood story because it’s time to get serious about making Ottawa more affordable and attractive for all businesses, not just a select few.

Jay Goldberg is the Interim Ontario Director at the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

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