3 top mayoral candidates clash over transit, land transfer tax

There's not much time left for Toronto's mayoral candidates to make their case to voters, but they are still making time to mix it up with one another during debates.

Time is running out on the campaign trail, but candidates are making time for debates

Olivia Chow, Doug Ford and John Tory took part in a debate at the Toronto Congress Centre on Tuesday morning, which was hosted by the Toronto Real Estate Board. (CBC)

There's not much time left for Toronto's mayoral candidates to make their case to voters, but they are still making time to mix it up with one another during debates.

Two mayoral debates are scheduled Tuesday — a Toronto Real Estate Board-hosted debate that occurred the morning, while another debate is being held at the University of Toronto’s Scarborough campus on Tuesday evening.

Early on at the TREB debate, the candidates clashed over a question about whether or not they would get rid of the city's Municipal Land Transfer Tax (MLTT).

In an answer that elicited some boos, Chow said the city currently does not have enough revenue to abandon the tax, which poured $345 million into city coffers last year.

"We do not have the funding revenue that we need," said Chow.

Ford said he would work to eliminate the tax, which is paid by anyone who buys a home or business in Toronto. The buyer of a house with a sale price of $500,000 would pay just over $5,700 in MLTT.

"We believe in putting the money back in the people's pocket," said Ford. "Politicians feel they are entitled to the land transfer tax."

Tory pointed out that Rob Ford — Doug Ford's brother — was unable to get rid of the tax during his four-year term as mayor. Doug Ford entered the mayor's race last month after Rob Ford was diagnosed with cancer and had to abandon his re-election campaign.

"You had a chance to do this," said Tory to Doug Ford. "You were told you couldn't and you didn't."

Tory also said Ford hasn't been clear about how he would make up the lost revenue if the MLTT is axed.

On a question about transit, the candidates didn't stray far from what they've been saying for the past few weeks.

Chow repeated her support for surface rail lines in Sheppard, Finch and in Scarborough, where the council voted to build a subway.

Both Chow and Ford attacked Tory's SmartTrack plan, which would build surface rail lines, primarily along existing GO Transit rail corridors.

"There's holes all over it," said Ford of SmartTrack. "It doesn't connect to the existing line. It doesn't serve 90 per cent of the population. I will not allow you to destroy this city on transit."

Chow questioned Tory about how much tunnelling SmartTrack would require; he countered by asking her how much tunnelling the downtown relief line would require.

The debate featured some good exchanges between the candidates, who are making a last-ditch bid to win votes ahead of Monday's vote. Among the best lines:

  • Tory to Ford about his penchant for clashing with other members of council. Ford had touted himself as a "straight shooter." Tory's response?  "A lot of that straight shooting has been gunfire happening at city council."
  • In a clash between Ford and Tory on the city's economic growth in recent years, Ford said: "You're a slick talker, I'm a doer."

  • Chow targeted Tory's past roles as leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservative party: "Our city is a progressive city, John Tory is a conservative."

The Oct. 27 election is now just six days away.