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It's time for Toronto's wealthy to step up for the city: Matt Elliott

Why don't Toronto's super-wealthy build their city like they do elsewhere?

Bay Street in 2010.

Adrian Veczan/Canadian Press

Bay Street in 2010.

Last week, we learned that eighty rich people from the state of New York recently did something surprising: they asked the government to tax them more.

According to the Associated Press, a letter with 80 signatures – carrying names like Soros and Rockefeller, a real monocle-and-tuxedo crowd – was delivered to the governor. It asks for a new, higher income tax bracket to fund infrastructure and social programs.

If implemented, it would represent a $2 billion transfer in wealth. And New York’s wealthy are demanding it — that’s a pretty astonishing thing.

And if it can happen there, can’t it happen anywhere? Like maybe here?

Rich people of Toronto: where you at?

We know you exist. A 2015 survey from real estate consultant Knight Frank found that there are 1,216 “super-rich” people in Toronto – the second-most in North America.

For the record, you need a net worth of $30 million to qualify as “super-rich.” I fall, uh, just a bit short of that. You probably do too.

And a lot of people fall way, way short. The gap is probably best expressed in these terms: in one of the richest cities in the world, one-in-four children and one-in-five adults live in poverty. Toronto city hall is perpetually short on funds for necessities like transit, housing, parks and shelters.

We could stand a little wealth transfer.

But it hasn’t been forthcoming. Toronto does have some prominent philanthropists, but our city hall has struggled to attract much cash from the caviar crowd.

In 2010, a city-led effort to raise $24 million in private funds to cover some of the revitalization project at Nathan Phillips Square – the city’s greatest public space – came up with virtually nothing. Elsewhere, Chicago secured about $220 million in private funds for its Millennium Park, while New York’s High Line sees private donations cover more than 90 per cent of operating costs.

There is no equivalent in Toronto. The $25 million philanthropic contribution made last fall to the Bentway project planned for underneath the Gardiner Expressway stands as an exception rather than the rule.

It stands to reason that the well-off people of this city can contribute more. If not through voluntary supports, then through other mechanisms. The notion of a progressive property tax system – one that levies a higher tax rate on multi-million dollar homes – has been floated by academics and think tanks.

In a city struggling with inequality, it’s worth exploring. So too the notion of simply raising all property taxes, so they aren’t so low relative to the rest of the GTA.

But I’d much prefer the demand to level the playing field come from those at the top, like New York. The rich people of Toronto should be tired of living in a city so poor.

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