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Automatic Tax Increases Are Ontario Politicians' Favourite New Year's Tradition

The nickel and diming of taxpayers is especially stinging in a province like Ontario, where the cost of living has increased dramatically over the last 10 years.

01/04/2018 10:19 EST | Updated 01/04/2018 10:25 EST

A new year in Ontario always comes with a few predictable staples: fireworks, champagne, a countdown to midnight, and petty increases to taxes and regulatory fees by the provincial government.

We're not talking about big-picture changes to income taxes. There is no significant change there. A two-child, single-income family earning $60,000 per year will have no change to their income taxes.

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Rather, it's a death by a thousand cuts of fee increases in just about every area of life. As surely as the ball drops in Times Square on Dec. 31, these fees climb up each Jan. 1.

For example, licence plate fees have increased from $25 to $27, camping fees are up $0.25 for this year, and hunting and fishing license fees are increasing by anywhere from 2.3 per cent to 4.5 per cent.

These are small increases taken individually, but the nickel and diming of taxpayers is especially stinging in a province like Ontario, where the cost of living has increased dramatically over the last 10 years. Consider increases to the cost of electricity and housing.

The more tax and fee increases they can hide, the better off they are politically.

With respect to housing, real estate development fees that are automatically escalated each year on Jan. 1 are part of the problem. With the new year have come automatic increases to the Building Code Commission application fee, the Building Materials Evaluation Commission application fee, the Line Fences Act appeal fee and the Minister's Ruling application fee. Registration and renewal fees for building officials, independent designers, sewage system installers, design firms and Registered Code Agencies are all automatically escalated each year as well.

With the average price of a detached home in Toronto hitting $1.4 million, politicians should consider how the plethora regulatory fees on real estate development impact the cost of housing. Consumers are largely unaware of these costs, but they ultimately end up paying for them as part of the final price of the home.

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Ontario legislative building at Queen's Park, Toronto, Ont.

Government fees that increase automatically with the rate of inflation, like those development fees, are referred to as "escalator taxes," and politicians love them. They take a one-time hit to their reputation on a new fee or fee increase, but the fees will continue to increase each year without the need to bring a bill to Queen's Park every time. This is significant for a provincial government that has been hammered for making everything in Ontario more expensive. The more tax and fee increases they can hide, the better off they are politically.

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So it makes political sense for them to bring in even more new escalator fees, like a new escalator fee on quarries and the new four-year escalator on certain farming fees.

New and existing escalator fees should be called out, because cabinet ministers should take responsibility for the decisions they make that increase costs on the people that elected them.

Accountability demands that when costs to the public go up, there is an elected official rather than a faceless bureaucrat associated with that increase. Because the more politicians can get away with these types of fee increases, the more they will rely on them. And ultimately, the more it will cost the taxpaying public.

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