Based on the limited financial information the city has released, Toronto taxpayers are facing a raw deal. City bureaucrats estimate taxpayers will be on the hook for $290 million to bring five World Cup games to Toronto in 2026. Pictured is former mayor John Tory. Photo credit: The Canadian Press/Christopher Katsarov
Toronto is out cash. And ripping up former mayor John Tory’s secret FIFA deal could start getting the city’s finances back in order.
Mayor Olivia Chow inherited a budget mess. After transition meetings, Chow famously declared Toronto “broke.” Her economic team is looking at all kinds of new taxes to cover Toronto’s $1.5 billion budget hole, including a municipal sales tax, a parking tax and higher land transfer taxes.
But the city should look for ways to save money to close its budget gap instead of dreaming up new ways to tax Torontonians who are already stretched to the max.
One way for the city to start digging itself out of its budget hole is to put an end to Tory’s secret FIFA deal.
Tory’s agreement is the definition of a backroom deal. It’s so secretive that Chow still hasn’t been allowed to read it weeks after becoming mayor.
“I’m waiting to see the contract myself,” Mayor Olivia Chow told reporters a full month after taking office.
Media outlets reported the deal Tory signed compels Toronto’s municipal government to keep its terms secret. Apparently, even the new mayor can’t gain full access.
While it’s not Chow’s fault for inheriting a secret deal, particularly one that she hasn’t fully seen, taxpayers can fault her for refusing to rip it up.
After signing onto the backroom deal, Tory tried to spin it as a “great investment” representing a historic opportunity for Toronto.
But Tory didn’t talk much about the cost. The financials always seem to be an afterthought. And Tory never levelled with taxpayers and put forward cold, hard numbers.
Based on the limited financial information the city has released, taxpayers are facing a raw deal. City bureaucrats estimate taxpayers will be on the hook for $290 million to bring five World Cup games to Toronto in 2026. In return, the same bureaucrats estimate revenue for local businesses will be $307 million.
That tiny margin means that if the games go even six per cent over budget, the net economic benefit of hosting the games will turn into a loss. And let’s not forget its taxpayers footing the bill while businesses get all the benefit.
No additional financial information has been released to the public.
Let’s face it: Tory agreed to a bad deal. Unfortunately, all but one member of city council voted to support him. No one stood up for taxpayers and asked why the details of Tory’s “great” deal can’t be released to the public.
The fact Tory and FIFA were so determined to keep the deal a secret suggests there’s something they’re desperately trying to hide.
Despite the secrecy and limited financial upside, Chow appears determined to move forward with Tory’s FIFA deal.
Doing so would be a huge mistake.
Chow should be honest with Toronto taxpayers. She should be clear that taking on costs like hosting a handful of World Cup games will likely mean even higher taxes. If Chow did so, it’s quite likely support for hosting FIFA would crater.
For example, the number of people willing to see a municipal sales tax as a trade-off for reckless spending at city hall, including on FIFA, would likely fit into a tiny section of BMO Field.
Torontonians are facing soaring living costs and the last thing taxpayers need is a painful dose of higher taxes. Chow could save Toronto taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars by ripping up Tory’s secret FIFA agreement.
Jay Goldberg is the Ontario Director at the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. He previously served as a policy fellow at the Munk School of Public Policy and Global Affairs. Jay holds a Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Toronto.