Video by upscale Toronto bistro says it’s ‘being eaten alive’ by rising property taxes

From a dinosaur devouring buildings to a jab at Premier Doug Ford’s buck-a-beer promotion, one Toronto restaurant has created a video to highlight what it says is really eating small businesses in the city — high property taxes.

Le Sélect Bistro, an upscale French restaurant that sits in a quaint building on Wellington Street just west of Spadina Avenue, produced the video.

“We are being plucked,” the narrator says in a comically exaggerated French accent as a cartoon goose is shown having its feathers pulled out.

“Small businesses in Toronto are being eaten alive by property tax,” the narrator continues as the video shows a cartoon dinosaur devouring the bistro.

Since 2016, the restaurant’s property taxes have shot up 239 per cent, the owners say, making it harder for the restaurant to keep its doors open. Right now, the restaurant is paying about $20,000 a month in property taxes.

“Currently, we’re being taxed as if we were a 12-storey condo,” said Tadhg McMahon, a long-time employee of the bistro.

“We’re a two-storey building with our offices above and the kitchen in the basement, so we believe we should be taxed accordingly.”

McMahon hopes the video will get people talking.

The value of a property is determined by the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC), an independent body that uses Ontario’s legislation and regulations to make its evaluations.

To determine a property’s value, MPAC looks at what other properties in the area are selling for. That amount is then multiplied by Toronto’s tax rate, resulting in the yearly taxes an owner must pay.

With condominiums slated for development and others already under construction, there’s no question that Wellington Street is in the middle of Toronto’s real estate boom. As the area is in high demand, sale prices go up and so do property taxes for small businesses.

McMahon says the cheeky animated video is meant to help people understand the complexities of the province’s taxation system.

“We just don’t think it’s fair. We’d like to be taxed based on who we are, not on what we could potentially be,” said McMahon, who is the restaurant’s spokesperson while owner Frédéric Geisweiller is away.

Owner works 7 days a week to stay afloat

Coun. Mike Colle agrees.

His motion to get the city staff to look at ways to help small business passed in council on Wednesday. He also requested that the city meet with Ontario’s Ministry of Finance to seek tax relief for small businesses affected by the “highest and best use valuation system” used by MPAC.

“The current system eliminates all the family-owned businesses,” said Colle. “The small shops on our main streets are going to be nothing but condos or corporate stores because the small business person will not be able to stay in business if they’re being forced to pay these extravagant taxes.”

A 2018 report by the Ryerson City Building Institute says businesses all over the city are feeling the squeeze of rising property taxes.

For the last four years, shop owner Bonnie de Merlis says she’s been making cuts in order to keep her business a float.

“We have reduced staff by not replacing some positions after a resignation,” said de Merlis, who owns The Sign of the Skier on Yonge Street.

Currently, de Merlis pays more than $12,000 a month in property taxes on a two-storey building.

“It’s made cash flow extremely tight, uncomfortably tight,” de Merlis said.

“My husband works seven says a week; he only had four days off last year,” she added.

When asked about Le Sélect’s new campaign and the struggles small businesses are facing, the Ministry of Finance told CBC News it’s aware of the growing concerns.

In an email, spokesperson Scott Blodgett said as part of the 2019 budget the province will be conducting a review.

The province will be “seeking input from business property owners and municipalities on measures to enhance the accuracy and stability of property assessments, and support a competitive business environment,” Blodgett wrote.

As for McMahon and de Merlis, they say until relief comes, they will continue to fight to keep small businesses alive in the city.


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