Toronto

Doug Ford's tax exemption for legions would end patchwork of benefits

The Doug Ford campaign announced Tuesday if the Progressive Conservatives form the next Ontario government, they will bring forward legislation exempting all Royal Canadian Legion branches from municipal property taxes.

PC leader says all legions should be exempt from property taxes, but many already are

The Doug Ford campaign announced Tuesday that if the Progressive Conservatives form the next Ontario government, they will bring forward legislation exempting all Royal Canadian Legion branches from municipal property taxes.

But many already are tax exempt, or are offered rebates.

Toronto, Mississauga, Hamilton and Ottawa are among the province's major cities that exempt legions from property taxes.

Randy Hope, the mayor of the municipality of Chatham-Kent, issued a statement saying all legions in that community, 11 in total, are exempt.

"The municipality believes the unique nature of the Royal Canadian Legion; the sacrifices of Legion members and the Legion's value to the community warrants this action," Hope said, adding that not all legion members may be aware of the exemption.

A spokesperson for the Royal Canadian Legion Ontario Command could not say how many of the province's more than 400 branches receive exemptions or rebates.

Pamela Sweeny said the legion does not get involved in political campaigns and platforms, but works with "all levels of government throughout the year on issues of importance to veterans and their dependents.

"If any government determines they'd like to show support for our Veterans by eliminating property taxes for Legion branches, we'd welcome it based on all the work our branches do in our communities," Sweeny told CBC Toronto Wednesday in an email.

"We believe that such exemptions should be automatic."

Change would create 'harmonized system'

Ford campaign spokesperson Melissa Lantsman noted Wednesday that exemptions aren't permanent, and must be renewed, some annually. Other legions don't receive full exemptions, while others are eligible for rebates, meaning they must pay taxes up front.

"We're creating a harmonized system across the province where it's clear that all municipalities will provide a 100 per cent exemption, so no legions have to pay property taxes and don't have to pay upfront in any way," she said in an email.

In announcing the measure, Ford said a PC government would bring forward an amendment to the provincial Assessment Act.

"As a proud member of the Royal Canadian Legion Coronation Branch 286, I know first-hand the important role that legion branches play in our communities," Ford said in a statement released Tuesday.

"Just as importantly, I recognize the role that the Royal Canadian Legion plays in educating our youth about the contributions our veterans made."

Ford's pledge follows closely on the heels of a controversy for the NDP in which leader Andrea Horwath had to defend a candidate who deemed wearing a poppy a "glorification of war."

Horwath has been asked about the comments and her support for candidate Laura Kaminker while on the campaign trail over the last several days. On Tuesday, Horwath once again affirmed her support for veterans, but defended the candidate's right to free speech.

In his statement announcing the tax measure, Ford seemed to reference the NDP controversy without naming the party or Horwath.

"Our Ontario PC Party is a big tent, but we are united by shared principles," Ford said, "chief among those shared principles is the importance of respecting and honouring the men and women in uniform who have sacrificed so much for the freedoms we enjoy today."

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