Toronto billboard tax approved

Toronto city councillors have approved a new tax on billboards in the city.

Toronto city councillors have approved a new tax on billboards in the city.

Council voted 29-12 on Monday to accept a staff recommendation to implement the tax, which is expected to generate about $10.4 million for the city.

Part of that money is expected to be used to pay for arts programs in the city. City staff, Mayor David Miller and artist advocacy groups all welcomed the move.

Devon Ostrom, who is part of  a group called, took up the cause to introduce the tax as a means to raise money for public art and improve the city's visual landscape.

He said council's decision to support the tax is a major win.

"Most other forms of advertising, they give something back in exchange of attention," he told CBC News.

"If you look at TV, you get 45 minutes of content for 15 minutes of advertising. With magazines, it's about 50-50, and with newspapers it's the same."

But that rule doesn't apply to billboards — a wrong that the new law rectifies, he said.

Council will still have to make a final decision during next year's budget process on how to spend the new money.

No guarantees yet

Coun. Rob Ford said supporters of the tax shouldn't count on all the money being spent on the arts.

"I've got news for you," he said. "The arts and culture people that think you're getting this money — you're not getting this money."

Ford said billboards help businesses grow and create jobs, and he lashed out at the supporters of the tax who had gathered at city hall's viewing gallery on Monday.

"I'm curious to know if they actually have a job," Ford said. "They obviously don't, if they can sit here every day and heckle those who disagree with them."

The billboard advertising industry calls the tax unfair, and it's considering legal action.

The new tax takes effect next April.