A City of Winnipeg ad campaign is trumpeting the city’s municipal property taxes as the lowest in major Canadian cities — but the numbers don’t quite add up.The city recently ran a $30,000 ad campaign advertising their already-approved 2013 budget.
In one of the ads, a graph appears, showing Winnipeg has the lowest municipal property taxes out of 10 major Canadian cities.The graph is sourced from a Calgary survey that was released in 2012 but that study ranked Winnipeg as having the fourth lowest municipal taxes.
City council voted to raise taxes for the first time in 14 years in 2012 and raised them again in 2013.
Throughout the process, city officials maintained a consistent message about Winnipeg having some of the lowest property taxes.
City Councillor Scott Fielding, chairman of the city's finance committee, lauded the city for having "some of the lowest taxes," in 2012 but stopped short of claiming they were the lowest.
The new ads, however, clearly show Winnipeg as having the lowest at $1,429 per average house.
'When you get caught openly playing around you are inviting political trouble you don’t need' —Political studies professor Paul Thomas
The ads claim in the print accompanying the graph "The City of Winnipeg still has the lowest municipal property taxes among major Canadian cities."
CBC sat down with City of Winnipeg economist Georges Chartier for a technical briefing on the numbers.
Chartier explained that the discrepancy came from how each city defined an average house.
The city took the numbers from the Calgary study, did a series of calculations, added a library levy to Regina’s numbers and came out with a ranking that placed Winnipeg in the lowest spot.
With the new calculations, Winnipeg is ranked lowest, but Winnipeg, Calgary and Regina’s average tax rate is within $100 of each other.
University of Manitoba political studies professor Paul Thomas said the discrepancy is troubling.
"Somebody is going to jump on this and say, ‘You are playing fast and loose with the numbers. That is not the same number in the Calgary study,’" said Thomas.
"When you get caught openly playing around you are inviting political trouble you don’t need."
Thomas said regardless of whether or not the numbers are accurate, the adjustments will raise red flags among citizens.
One of the researchers who worked on the Calgary study told CBC the City of Winnipeg should have disclosed what they did to survey’s numbers in the ad.
The City of Winnipeg refused to comment on the ad campaign but said the ads were designed to "inform citizens in a concise, accessible way about the City's budget."