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What do you need to know about Toronto’s budget?

The 2018 city budget is set to go to city council on Monday. It is being described by Toronto Mayor John Tory as “balanced” and “affordable”, focusing on low taxes and transit.

The $11 billion operating budget sets the tone for services and capital projects for the next year. The city is planning on investing in transit, shelters, recreational spaces, and the Vision Zero plan, among others. The revenue for this budget is being collected from various sources, including taxes, TTC fares, provincial grants, and reserve funds.

Residential property taxes are set to increase 2.1 per cent along with the rate of inflation, while commercial taxes will only increase by one per cent. The city will be relying on approximately $800 million collected from the municipal land transfer tax to fund services, something city manager Peter Wallace says is dangerous considering the real estate market.

The budget will include $9 million for traffic initiatives, including $1.6 million for traffic wardens, $477,000 to fix temporary lane blockages on the Gardiner and Don Valley Parkway, and $2.7 million for smart traffic signals. “Over the last three years, people across the city have made it clear that traffic is one of the most important issues they expect City Hall to tackle,” said Chair of Public Works and Infrastructure Jaye Robinson, in a statement. “The 2018 budget builds upon work we have done each and every year on the City’s congestion plan to get Toronto moving.”

There will be a significant investment in transit this year, with over $50 million in new investments to the Toronto Transit Commission, including $4.8 million for the TTC Fair Pass, which will provide discounts for low-income riders, and the hop-on-hop-off transfer.

“I want every transit rider in this city to know that I am absolutely committed to improving and expanding the TTC so that their daily commute improves,” said Tory. “We are doing everything possible to make sure the existing system is running properly and that we are expanding transit as fast as possible for the future.”

Other highlights include $279 million in new funding for Toronto Community Housing Corporation, $486 million for the George Street revitalization, the creation of 825 new child care and 20,000 new recreational spaces.

Janice Fukakusa, chair of Infrastructure Bank, to speak in Toronto

Janice Fukakusa was appointed as Chair of the Canada Infrastructure Bank in July. After 31 years with Royal Bank, Fukakasa was the perfect fit for the new organization. As Chair of the Infrastructure Bank, Fukakusa will help choose the board of directors that will oversee the agency’s operations and guide daily actions.

Fukakusa has previously worked at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP. She has a Bachelor of Arts from University of Toronto, a Master’s of Business Administration, and is a Chartered Professional Accountant and Business Valuator. In 2007, Fukakusa was inducted into Canada’s Most Powerful Women Hall of Fame and named one of 25 Most Powerful Women in Banking in 2016.

She is currently on the board of Cineplex, General Growth Properties, the Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation, and the Wellspring Cancer Foundation, among others. She also sits on the Board of Governors of Ryerson University.

Fukakusa will be a special speaker at the 25th Annual Canadian Council for Public Private Partnerships (CPPP) National Conference on Public-Private Partnerships. Her address will discuss “Canada’s New Infrastructure Frontier” and touch upon how best to increase private sector investments into complex revenue generating projects through the support of P3s.

The Canada Infrastructure Bank is a new $35 billion initiative of the Liberal Government and was announced in their 2017 federal budget. It hopes to provide low-cost financing for new infrastructure projects by injecting private funds for public projects. The Bank hopes to be operational by the end of 2017.

Register for the CCPP National Conference here.

Is Ontario a ‘real funding partner’ for Toronto’s relief line?

The Yonge Relief Line may have a new alignment — and that decision couldn’t come soon enough. This alignment is one of the few remaining steps that need approval before city staff can push this much-needed project forward.

And this project NEEDS to move forward.

The relief line has been talked about on and off for the last decade, and yet, it is still nowhere near completion. Politics always got in the way. Since then, the original Yonge line (Line 1) has become more crowded. This has made commutes nearly unbearable during peak hours. It has effected ridership and forced more people to use their cars instead of taking public transportation.

While some question the need for a relief line, especially with SmartTrack on the table, city staff, the Toronto Transit Commission, and Metrolinx have all come together to label the relief line as a priority for Toronto’s new transit network. Without it, they say, congestion on the Yonge Line will not be alleviated.

The biggest problem with the relief line will be the funding. As Toronto Mayor John Tory said repeatedly at a series of press conferences on transit last week, without serious funding from provincial and federal partners, Toronto will be unable to grow its transit network.

The Ontario government promised in 2016 to provide $150 million in funds to the planning and design of the relief line. That number has not changed, despite the current cost projection of $6.8 billion for the relief line. This means that the provincial contribution won’t do anything other then fund a study or two.

It’s also why Tory has been campaigning and pushing the province for more. When the province dismissed Toronto’s attempt at raising funds through tolls, they effectively removed a significant form of revenue for the city. Without that money, Toronto has no choice but to make its residents pay for the transit network, no matter what the politicians say. That’s why Tory is asking the province to step up and become a “real partner” in their efforts to fund transit infrastructure. He wants the province and the federal government to each pay 40 per cent of the relief line.

The province has been hitting back, indicating they are a “stable provincial funding partner”, despite the lack of funding announcements. But Toronto residents are not falling for it — and that fact is already showing in the polls.

Taking away a revenue-generating tool like tolls without offering a solution is not leadership. Ignoring the needs of one of the biggest cities in the province is also not the way to get elected, despite what advisors may be whispering into the Premier’s ears. The Liberal government will find that out if they refuse Tory’s proposal of short-term hotel taxes as a revenue tool.

Back to the relief line: In May, the executive committee will debate the new alignment option down Carlaw Ave., between Gerrard St. and Eastern Ave., before sending the route to city council for approval.

At this moment, construction will begin in 2025.

Woman of the Week: Manjit Minhas

Be concise and know your financials — that’s Manjit Minhas’ advice for young entrepreneurs pitching their business ideas.

Minhas is the co-founder and CEO of Minhas Brewery, Distillery, and Winery, and is one of Canada’s new Dragons on the hit CBC show Dragon’s Den. She is a straight-forward and blunt businesswoman with an incredible passion for innovative ideas. When she speaks of the new products she is constantly exposed to on Dragon’s Den, she does so with tremendous respect and excitement.

“I see myself in a lot of these entrepreneurs,” she says. “I know there is no book to map these challenges. I love that I can help guide them and, on the flip side, help people stop when I think they are dumping their own money, and sometimes other people’s money, on something that in my experience is not going to work.”

“If I can save someone’s livelihood, that’s necessary and my role as a mentor and venture capitalist.”

The 36-year-old started her own business at the age of 19 after her first year of university, where she was studying petroleum engineering. At the time, her father had been let go from the oil patch and decided, with much pushing from his friends, to go into the liquor business. He purchased three stores in Calgary. Minhas and her brother grew up in the industry and both realized there was an opportunity for growth.

The siblings sold their car for $10,000 and launched Mountain Crest Spirits. “I discovered that bars and restaurants were not brand loyal,” Minhas says. “They were looking for cheapest bar stock that week.” The idea was to create good quality spirits that, because of the low price, restaurants would become accustomed to and the result would be loyalty. Tequila and Irish cream were some of their best sellers.

“Our goal was, service, quality, and volume volume volume. That was the start of our real big empire story.”

In 2002, they launched into beers. Their first beer, a classic mountain lager, was made with only four ingredients and sold for only a dollar, which was unheard of at that time. They eventually purchased their first brewery in Wisconsin — the second oldest brewery in the U.S. — and since then, the company has grown immensely. Minhas and her brother now have breweries in Calgary and Mexico, as well as two wineries in Chile. Their products are sold throughout Alberta, Saskatchewan, British Columbia, Ontario, and Manitoba, as well as 43 states throughout the United States and 15 other countries in Europe, Asia and South America.

In 2016, Minhas’ companies made over $187 million in revenues. Minhas has been honoured with several industry awards for her success, including PROFIT magazine’s “Top Growth Entrepreneur”, Top 100 Women Entrepreneurs in Canada, Canada’s Top 40 under 40, and the Sikh Centennial Foundation Award, among others.

“I can say I didn’t have much of a typical university life, but no pain no gain,” she says. “My sacrifice was my 20s, and I guess I say my education because I could have done better. I had other dreams and passions and I’m glad that I did. I don’t regret the last 17 years.”

Minhas is constantly looking for ways to expand and grow her thriving business. They started to fashion new beer flavours, even appealing to the gluten-free crowds and the boxer beer enthusiasts. When Minhas purchased her first brewery in Wisconsin, she also happened upon the rights and recipes to the old-fashioned soda the facility owner made during prohibition. This inspired her to continue that business, selling soda and soda-inspired nano-filtration boxer beer. This summer, they are adding new flavours of boxer beer, including black cherry and ginger. Last year, they added hard root beer, grape, and cream soda to their repertoire.

“We had a great award-winning soda line that we added clear malt base too — a proprietary method we have discovered,” she says. “We clarify it and it becomes colourless, tasteless, odourless and we add alcohol to the soda. There is no bad aftertaste of beer because we’ve taken that taste out in order to taste the soda, unlike other brands in the market. Innovation is key to success.”

In 2015, Minhas was invited to appear in Dragon’s Den, a Canadian reality television show that allows entrepreneurs to pitch business ideas to potential investors — known as “the Dragons”. She prides herself on her bluntness and her honesty, but above all else, she loves the mentoring aspect of the show. Minhas says she was surprised by how many products she has seen that didn’t already exist in the market. Her investments are plastered proudly all over her website.

“I do believe it’s important for women to support each other and people in different industries to talk to each other,” she says. “In my industry, there is not a lot of women. It’s about guiding a newcomer, a new entrepreneur through the challenges everyone has — work-life balance, finances, regulation, all those things that are really generic to any business, human resources. That, I feel, is my biggest contribution.”

Minhas starts filming season three of Dragon’s Den at the end of this month.

 

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Ontario will still have a revenue problem

I became a Liberal advocate in 2011 because they were the only party honest enough to admit that both Ontario and Toronto have huge revenue problems. Services like healthcare and education suck up all the tax dollars collected by the province and, as our population grows, there is an even greater need for more funding options. Few politicians have the guts to stand up for increasing taxes or implementing tolls because they risk their chances of re-election. But Toronto Mayor John Tory did. He stood up for tolls despite the risk of losing support in the suburbs because he, like many of us, understands that dedicated funding for transit has to come from somewhere.

I met Kathleen Wynne and others in the Liberal party who said they were willing to admit that Ontario didn’t collect enough revenue to pay for the services residents want — services like transit and housing that cities desperately need. I became a Liberal because of these facts. I believed the Premier would stand up and do the right thing, and not cave to low-polling numbers or pressure from cabinet members desperate to get re-elected. She once believed that tolls were a necessary tool to get the dedicated transit funding Toronto needs.

Tolls on Toronto highways are just as important as tolls on provincially-owned highways. Not allowing Toronto to access this funding tool will simply push the cost of transit expansion and other services on to future generations. From health care, to education, to efficient transit, we don’t have enough funding to pay for everything. But today, Premier Wynne has decided to ignore that problem and gamble that economic growth and low gas prices will last forever.

Relying on our current gas taxes for the billions of dollars needed over the next decade for transit expansion in Toronto is the same “do nothing” approach that has caused the growth of gridlock in the city. Gridlock is costing residents over $13 billion per year in time and lost revenues. A slight slip in economic growth, or increase in gas prices will lower the amount of revenue Ontario collects, meaning we’ll be financing all this transit expansion through debt.

So, why would Premier Wynne go against everything she stood for? Rumours of internal “poli-tricking” swirl with cabinet ministers outside Toronto apparently demanding she stop her support of Mayor Tory’s plan. The Premier should remember how flip flopping on the gas plant in Mississauga almost cost Liberals the 2011 election and this huge change in her position on Toronto tolls may very well lose her the liberal base of support in 2018. This kind of internal poli-tricking is why voters lose faith in politicians, and will choose an honest buffoon over a smart, intelligent, candidate.

Today I am ashamed.

City council votes to support tolls

“You rarely have to ask permission to do the right thing.”

This quote comes from an open letter released Tuesday morning, with the signature of five different Canadian mayors attached to it. The letter calls for more municipal power to create city revenue, so that municipal leaders can match infrastructure funding provided by the provincial and federal governments.

In essence, Canada’s biggest cities, including Toronto, were asking for the power to do their part to expand and grow.

This sentiment was much needed prior to the city council meeting Tuesday, where councillors discussed how they would be paying for city services for the foreseeable future.

After much debate, city council approved staff recommendations by staff to generate revenue by using various taxes and tolls. The implementation of tolls is a brave new step for the city – proof that politicians understand the need to create revenue and alleviate congestion on city roads.

Toronto Mayor John Tory proposed the use of tolls on the Don Valley Parkway and the Gardiner Express over a month ago, and since then it has received a mostly positive response. The money would be directly funnelled into maintaining and funding transit-related projects, which works to both alleviate congestion on roadways and expand Toronto’s transit network.

City council ultimately voted in support of the mayor’s proposal. Nine councillors opposed the motion.

These tolls, which could be implemented as early as 2020, would affectively alleviate congestion, unlock gridlock, and help pay for the much-needed transit network being built throughout Toronto. A win-win scenario.

Council also agreed to look into a 0.5 per cent levy on property taxes, a four per cent tax on hotels, up to a 10 per cent tax on short-term rentals like Airbnb, and harmonizing and/or increasing land transfer taxes. The city will also be asking the province for a share of the harmonized sales tax.

The debate on tolls will continue in the new year, when city staff will present options for implementation, including cost.

City Manager Peter Wallace made it clear in his presentation on the city budget that council had to approve of some of the proposed revenue tools — if they didn’t, they should be prepared to provide solutions to the $33 billion in unfunded projects the city is undergoing.

“I think it comes down to what level of public service does city council want to endorse,” Wallace said bluntly. He also made it clear that by voting to take tolls to the next level, council can rest assured that city staff will proved thoughtfully.

Other councillors were not so thoughtful. Many ignored the fact that people pay for the use of public transportation and that user fees are popularly used in large cities. However, at the end of the day, even the wary councillors understood the need to make a firm decision or risk being left with a large revenue gap to fill.

And to that brave majority, Toronto thanks you.

What’s the deal with Toronto’s revenue tools?

The City of Toronto is facing a budgeting crisis with over $91 million worth of funds to find by City Council. Several revenue tools were presented by city manager, Peter Wallace in an effort to find money to fill the gaps and pay for all of the projects that are much-needed in Toronto.

Terms like ‘property tax’, ‘municipal land transfer tax’, ‘parking levy’, and ‘expressway tolls’ , are being thrown around like crazy, and it is easy to get lost in the world of financial terms. Understanding the inner-workings of the various revenue tools is the best way to decide which financial tools should be adopted by the city and which of them should be discarded. That’s why Women’s Post has created this guide, to help our readers understand the ins and outs of the revenue tools presented in the executive committee, and what terms will be flying around next week at city council.

Property Tax

Property tax is a commonly used revenue tool and is most often brought up in city council. A property tax is a levy on a property the owner is required to pay. It is set by the governing authority of any given area, which in this case is the municipality of Toronto. Property taxes in Toronto are a hotly contested issue because Toronto property tax rates are the only metropolitan tax that is lower than the surrounding area, the GTHA, and politicians don’t want to raise them. The city has proposed a two per cent property tax hike, but Toronto Mayor John Tory vows to raise the property tax no higher than half a per cent. Instead he is pushing for alternatives instead of pushing more tax on property owners.

Municipal Land Transfer Tax

Municipal land transfer tax has been a popular option for Toronto in the last year and helped keep the property tax inflation rate at bay in last year’s budget. The municipal land transfer tax is a fee that is paid by the person who purchases the home to the municipality that is charging it. There are rebates for first-time home buyers and other jurisdictions, such as Vancouver, have imposed a foreign land transfer tax to help lower inflation in the real estate market. It is a useful tool, but was used in the 2016 budget so may not be a viable option when looking at other options for 2017. City Council will discuss harmonizing the Ontario land transfer tax with the municipal option, which would require legislative changes but would streamline the process in the long-run.

Personal Vehicle Tax

The personal vehicle tax has been a revenue tool that was presented in the past before at City Council and was not a popular option. Council will consider the re-introduction to tax $120 per vehicle annually, but Tory has stated he is not a big fan of this option. The rejection of the personal vehicle tax has angered environmental groups who want to see people choosing to drive vehicles in the city pay extra taxes. The personal vehicle tax is also an easy and quick tax to implement because it doesn’t require any extra infrastructure.

Hotel Tax

The hotel tax revenue tool is being hotly contested by the tourism and hotel industry, which has already seen slowed growth due to the increasing popularity of air bnbs and other short-term stays. By placing an extra tax on the hotel industry, it may put more pressure on hotels to pay when they can’t afford to do so. Tory rebutted in the executive committee though that the annual subsidy supplied to hotels would help pay for the hotel tax if it were approved. This revenue tool would require provincial legislative and regulatory reforms, and is not a popular option in regards to fairness, efficiency, and is low in revenue quality according to Wallace’s presentation.

Expressway Tolls

Expressway tolls are the newest revenue tool to be introduced by Mayor Tory and is a popular option. The expressway tolls would require vehicles to pay a fee when they use the Don Valley Parkway and the Gardiner Expressway. If the city charged $2 per trip, the annual revenue would be $166 million per year. The start-up cost to build the expressway tolls would be an estimated $100-$150 million and have ongoing operational costs of $50 to $60 million. The expressway tolls would require provincial legislative changes, but could be implemented in the 2017 budget. City Council will be focusing heavily on tolls next week.

There are many other revenue tools that were presented including an alcohol beverage tax, a parking levy, a third party sign tax, graduated residential property taxes, and a municipal sales tax. From the climate of the executive committee meeting, it would be surprising to see any of these options be approved. They have not been given the same amount of attention as the hotel tax and expressway tolls. A graduated residential property tax and a municipal sales tax in particular require provincial legislation changes and were listed by Wallace as aspirational changes to be further discussed in 2018.

In order to fully grasp the many revenue tool terms that will fly around at City Council next week, focus on the most important options that are available. Also remember to bring popcorn. Even though discussing financial tools can be a bit of a bore, City Council is sure to get lively when discussing the various revenue tools that were presented for debate.

Headline Coffee — the future of journalism?

You get up in the morning, grab the newspaper (or your Ipad/tablet for your digital news), and then saunter into the kitchen to make your brewed beverage of choice.

But, wait! There is no coffee beside that fancy Keurig machine. What now?

The Toronto Star has you covered. Tuesday, the news organization launched Headline Coffee, a delivery service that will bring ethically-sourced ground or whole-bean coffee from around the world directly to your doorstep. No need to make that timmies run!

For $20, subscribers will get a bag of coffee — good for about 35 cups — from a new single-origin country each month. Those beans are then roasted locally to perfection.

At first glance, the idea of a news organization selling something other than news seems a bit strange. But, amid job cuts and declining advertising revenue, this seems like a brilliant way to make a little extra cash. Headline Coffee is disrupting the system and shattering the illusion — the news industry is in trouble. Despite what people may think, news publications can’t hire employees, or keep the ones they do have for that matter. Printing and staffing a large paper is expensive, and without extra revenue, there is no way the Star, no matter it’s reputation, can maintain its product.

Like many smaller publications have figured out, it’s time to embrace this reality and get creative. Magazines like Spacing are supporting themselves with private donations, launch parties, and memorabilia sales. Sponsored content is becoming the norm and there is nothing editors can do about it.

Cue Headline Coffee: a unique and effective way to entice readers to help pay some of the costs for a larger news conglomerate. It also just happens to target their specific audience — news and coffee lovers. I can attest to being part of that audience and I have to say that I am intrigued by this offer.

As the Star said in their press release announcing their new Headline Coffee, “whether they relax and read their newspaper at home, clutch it during their commute, enjoy a quick news update on their mobile phone or swipe through Toronto Star Touch on their tablet, reading the Toronto Star and enjoying a cup of coffee are parts of their day for about 75 per cent of the Star’s readers.”

It will be interesting to see if the quality and quantity of news increases as coffee sales rise. Will Headline Coffee help the Star stay afloat? Who knows, but in the meantime, let’s brew a good cup of Joe, settle into a comfortable chair with our paper, and see what happens.

Hon. Minister Glen Murray deserves the spotlight

It seems like every week a new headline relating to climate change is gracing the front pages of the news.  Whether it’s the unruly weather or the destruction of a natural habitat, it seems like climate change is on everyone’s mind.

The Ontario government has made a number of promises to invest in green retrofits, electric vehicles, and renewable energy, and for that, Women’s Post salutes them. It’s impossible not to see the negative effects climate change is having on this planet, and it’s time for Canada, especially Ontario, to take action.

But all of these changes would not be possible without the leadership of one man — the Honourable Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, Glen Murray.

Minister Murray is enthusiastic, driven, and level-headed — something all politicians can’t claim. His extensive political career began in Winnipeg, where he acted as city councillor before becoming Mayor in 1998. It’s worth mentioning that he was the first openly-gay mayor of a large city in North America, which was a big deal at the time.

After moving to Toronto in 2010, he was elected into the Legislative Assembly of Ontario. Since then, he has held the position of Minister of Research and Innovation, Minister of Training, Colleges, and Universities, Minister of Transportation, Minister of Infrastructure, and finally Minister of the Environment and Climate Change.

Minister Murray has thrived in each of these positions and has incorporated the sustainable practices he has learnt throughout his political career to push through impressive legislation. The minister was instrumental in the creation and adoption of the cap-and-trade regulations that passed through the legislature in mid-May. The policy will place a cap on carbon emissions and allow companies to sell or trade unused credits for profit. This will ultimately reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emitted from high-polluting industries. The government will be auctioning off a number of credits to companies that may have a hard time adjusting to the cap. In 2017, emission allowances are 142,332,000 tones, which will decrease over four years to 124,668,000 in 2020.

The program will take effect on July 1.

“Climate change is one of the biggest threats facing humanity today,” Murray said after the cap-and-trade policy was revealed. “Ontario is doing its part to reduce harmful greenhouse gas pollution by putting in place a cap and trade program to limit emissions and invest in the kind of innovative solutions that will give our kids and grandkids the sustainable and prosperous legacy they deserve.”

Through the cap-and-trade regulations, Minister Murray has ensured $1.9 billion in additional revenue for the provincial government. This funding will be used to support future green initiatives.

In the next few weeks Murray will unveil the provincial government’s ultimate climate change plan, which promises to help Ontario households and businesses adopt low- and no-carbon energy in homes and the workplace. It also puts an emphasis on incentives for electric vehicles and charging stations. The climate change strategy is said to cost an average household about $13 a month, but is meant to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020.

And these are only a few of Minister Glen Murray’s accomplishments, just from the past year!

Later this month, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne is expected to do a major cabinet shuffle — and all Women’s Post can do is hope that Minister Murray is given the opportunity to expand on his vision. He has spearheaded a number of environmentally friendly and revenue building policies over the last year. What is needed now is the strength, determination, and tenacity to implement them — and Minister Murray has that in spades.

If Ontario wants to prove that it is serious about fighting climate change and reducing greenhouse emissions, Minister Murray has proven his ability to steer this through. The political arena doesn’t support a rising star and we can only hope his cabinet supports him to carry out his role as Minister of the Environment and Climate Change. His consistent hard work, determination, and refusal to back down under pressure from private industries makes him the ideal candidate for the position.