Entire city council not batshit crazy after all

My ward councillor, Bill Saundercook, recently floated an idea for the city to tax bottled water.  Five cents for bottled Ontario water, and ten cents for filthy, despicable out-of-province water.  Fortunately, Bill proposed this during the land-transfer tax debate and was ruled out of order.  Mayor David Miller, also a Ward 13 resident, pledged to get Saundercook’s idea on the executive committee’s agenda for next Monday’s meeting.

Councillor Bill Saundercook has floated the idea of imposing a 5 cents tax on a bottle of water produced in Ontario and a 10 cents levy on imports.

In a letter to next week’s meeting of Toronto’s influential executive committee, Mayor David Miller writes that he supports the idea of reviewing Saundercook’s proposal…

Saundercook argued there’s no need for people to drink bottled water when they can just turn on the tap.

— Zen Ruryk, “Bottled water tax idea faces obstacles“.  Toronto Sun, November 22nd, 2007.

Sure, Bill.  Who needs anything other than tap water?  There are city-provided taps in every bus and subway car, aren’t there?  And park drinking fountains never freeze up in the cold, they run year-round, don’t they?  No?

Well, no matter.  Everyone can just go home and get tap water instead.  Especially the people visiting from other cities and countries.  They should have thought ahead and packed a couple of empty thermoses.  And then knocked on the door of the nearest city resident and asked to fill them up.

The city’s budget chief, however, seems to think that water-bottle revenues would be negligible in light of the expenses.  Not to mention the tax would be illegal under the terms of the taxation powers granted by the City of Toronto Act.

Under the new City of Toronto Act, the city has more powers to levy its own taxes, but the act clearly prohibits sales taxes other than on alcohol, tobacco or entertainment, such as concert tickets.

At first glance, city officials say, it appears a bottled-water tax would be illegal, but they still need to study the matter.

Budget chief Shelley Carroll opposes such a tax, arguing that point-of-sale taxation is expensive.

Unlike the province or the federal government, which already collect sales taxes, the city would have to set up a new bureaucracy.

“I don’t want to set up a department that’s going to cost $8 million to $10 million to collect $15 million,” she said.

But she added that if the city could have a sales tax that would generate $400 million a year, she’d be prepared to consider it.

— Vanessa Lu, “Bottled water tax idea faces obstacles“. 
Toronto Star, November 22nd, 2007.

A certain amount of lunacy is expected from Councillor Saundercook, given that he was previously a schoolteacher and may not yet comprehend the rule of law in the real world—that is, outside the classroom.  Mayor Miller, on the other hand, was a lawyer by training and ought to know better.  Where the province’s statutes do not delegate municipal taxing powers, the city cannot arrogate them to itself.

Most impressive is the practical common sense of the city’s budget chief.  This is a rather rare gift of insight for Toronto City Council.  Especially when one considers that Mrs. Caroll’s previous work experience was that of a School Trustee for the TDSB—an organisation not well-known for regular displays of wisdom and practicality.

Thanks, Shelley Carroll.  Maybe in a few years’ time you can think about a bid for the Mayor’s chair.  It would be nice to have a city executive that isn’t always under the impression that they’re sovereign heads of state.

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