Cards stacked against council gang pushing levy

Ottawa city councillors have been taking jabs at each other all week over a proposal that would see the average homeowners's property tax bill rise by $12 to help improve the state of the city's roads.

Group of 8 calling for $1 per month infrastructure levy accused of political 'grandstanding'

Factions have formed at Ottawa City Hall over a proposed infrastructure levy that would see the typical homeowner pay $12 more in 2018 to repair roads and other infrastructure. (Kristy Nease/CBC)

Ottawa city councillors have been taking jabs at each other all week over a proposal that would see the average homeowners's property tax bill rise by $12 to help improve the state of the city's roads.

Judging by the online bickering — bolstered by an unofficial poll of council's quieter members by CBC News — the plan appears dead on arrival.

Coun. Jeff Leiper will officially table the motion Wednesday morning when council begins debating the 2018 draft budget.

It calls for a one-time 0.5 per cent infrastructure levy to help narrow a $70 million annual gap in the amount of money needed to keep Ottawa's roads, parks and other infrastructure in good condition.

The councillors behind the motion say that amounts to about $1 per month for the typical taxpayer.

The eight councils who support the infrastructure levy are:

  • Kitchissippi Coun. Jeff Leiper
  • Rideau-Rockcliffe Coun. Tobi Nussbaum.
  • Gloucester-Southgate Coun. Diane Deans.
  • Somerset Coun. Catherine McKenney.
  • Kanata North Coun. Marianne Wilkinson.
  • Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury.
  • Capital Coun. David Chernushenko.
  • College Coun. Rick Chiarelli.

CBC reached out to all members of council who had not publicly stated where they stand on the motion, and not one plans to add their support.

'An effort to grandstand'

Several councillors have questioned the motivation of the eight councillors who put the idea forward, accusing them of picking a fight with the mayor in an election year to win "political points."
Coun. Diane Deans accused colleagues opposed to the levy of pandering to voters on the eve of a municipal election year. (Ashley Burke/CBC)

"If they genuinely cared about improving the infrastructure of the city, they are going about it in a disingenuous way," said Coun. George Darouze in a statement.

"This motion is an effort to grandstand."

Since the councillors proposed the measure via Twitter last Thursday, the backlash from their colleagues has been biting and, at times, personal.

Coun. Jody Mitic missed most of the committee budget meetings because of a family matter. On Saturday he tweeted that his constituents would not be paying for the group's "bully tactics BS."

Coun. Diane Deans hit back, accusing her detractors of electioneering.

On Wednesday the sniping is expected to move to the council chamber.

Awaiting mandate from residents

While most councillors agree more needs to be done to improve the state of the city's roads, some of those who oppose the motion said they'll wait to get a new mandate from their constituents in the next election before entertaining the notion of raising taxes beyond two per cent.

Had the concept ... been introduced earlier and more transparently in the budget process, we might have had the chance.- Coun . Keith Egli 

"The next term I will be looking for one per cent increase for infrastructure to be directed to roads, culverts, sidewalks, and let the voters decide," said Coun. Eli El Chantiry.

Others said the budget debate isn't the right time to float a tax increase because some councillors haven't had a chance to properly consult with their residents.

"Had the concept of a city-wide levy been introduced earlier and more transparently in the budget process, we might have had the chance," said Coun. Keith Egli, chair of the transportation committee, in an email.

Some councillors told CBC a 0.5 per cent infrastructure levy won't make much of an impact on the state of the roads anyway.

Coun. Jean Cloutier said council must focus on a more sustainable solution to the infrastructure problem. 

This summer council passed a long-range financial plan to close the infrastructure gap over the next 10 years.

Marian Simulik, the city's treasurer, has pointed out that gap could be closed in half the time with an extra one per cent tax increase.