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Ontario Court of Appeal Upholds Billboard Tax

In a 3–0 decision, judges find that the City of Toronto was within its authority to create the tax, and extend the City's scope of application.

Photo by {a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/chromewaves/4966290790/in/photostream/"}chromewaves{/a} from the {a href="http://www.flickr.com/groups/torontoist/pool/"}Torontoist Flickr Pool{/a}.

Public space activists are claiming a big victory today: the Ontario Court of Appeal has just upheld the validity of the City’s billboard tax, created in 2009 and challenged by the outdoor advertising industry.

The background: in December 2009, after years of discussion and a concerted campaign by public space activists, the municipal government passed new measures concerning billboards in Toronto. The key elements included a harmonized billboard bylaw to coordinate sign placement, size, and material across Toronto (we had been working with a patchwork of rules left over from before amalgamation); the creation of a Sign Variance Committee (which would consider applications from anyone who wanted to install a billboard that went further than what the regulations allowed); and the implementation of a new billboard tax.

The billboard industry, unimpressed, challenged the validity of the new tax, claiming that imposing it fell outside the City’s scope of authority. The courts disagreed, finding that the City exercised its authority properly when it created the tax. But there was catch: the court also ruled that the tax could only apply to new signs; signs that already existed when the tax was created should be grandfathered in, and be tax-exempt. This, effectively, would have gutted the tax, leaving the vast majority of signs in Toronto in the clear, and the City with much-diminished revenue. And so the City in turn appealed.

Today, the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled in favour of the City: it upheld the validity of the billboard tax, agreeing with the earlier decision, and moreover found that the City is within its authority to apply the tax to all legal signs—the ones that already exist and new ones alike. The City can now start levying the tax, which staff estimate will bring in about $10.4 million a year. That money will go first to beefed-up billboard regulation (many of Toronto’s billboards are illegal, but staff don’t currently have the resources to enforce the rules), and then into general revenues. Rami Tabello has been campaigning against illegal billboards for several years and represents the Toronto Public Space Initiative on this issue: “We are delighted,” he said, highlighting the fact that the appeals court “stated unequivocally that ‘The powers conferred by the City of Toronto Act should be read in a generous fashion so as to enable the City to meet the needs of its residents and to provide them with good government.’”

The ruling also forces the appellant, Pattison Outdoor, to open its books to the public, meaning that we’ll all have a clearer sense of just how much the billboard industry has been making. If it’s more than the City’s conservative estimates, Tabello hopes, the City won’t just start collecting a billboard tax, it will raise the rate at which the tax is levied: “The release of Pattison Outdoor’s confidential leasing information will allow the public to scrutinize the industry’s argument that the tax was an undue burden and should give us more ammunition to advocate for a tax increase.”

The billboard industry, needless to say, is frustrated by today’s ruling. Rosanne Caron, president of the Out-of-Home Marketing Association of Canada, spoke to us on behalf of sign companies. “We’re extremely disappointed,” she said, adding that the industry is “going to look at our options” with regard to the possibility of further court appeals. She maintains that the billboard industry is not raking in the cash their opponents assume, and said that “the imposition of this billboard tax on pre-existing signs will create a devastating tax burden on the industry.”

With the books opened to the public soon, we hope we’ll be able to put that question to rest one way or another in short order.

The full text of today’s ruling is available online.

Comments

  • Anonymous

    You know, I can’t really think of a giant downside if the billboard industry goes out of business. I mean, I will certainly be sad for the people who lose their jobs, but I’ll be happier by an equivalent (or greater) amount to not be subjected to advertising in public space.

    • Anonymous

      A rather simpleton viewpoint.

      • Anonymous

        Why?

      • Anonymous

        I agree with tomwest. I could certainly be missing something, and would love to hear what it is…

        • Anonymous

          Of course you are. You think a few people will just lose their jobs.

          Ask Sick Kids Hospital how they feel about your simple viewpoint…

          • Anonymous

            So, you’re not going to tell me what the giant downside is? Why are you even commenting in that case? And why am I replying to someone who obviously isn’t interested in communicating?

          • Anonymous

            RTFM. I shoved you in the general direction.

            Why are YOU commenting if YOU don’t already know?

            You’ve concluded your opinion based on some kind of “warm and fuzzy”

            I despise people like you…

          • Anonymous

            I often try to communicate with people in order to learn things, and have formed my opinion after thinking about it for some time. I’m happy to change my opinion if you (or anyone else) cares to present me with new facts.

            Finally, I graciously accept your despisal, but sadly can’t bring myself to return it in kind.

          • Anonymous

            http://torontoist.com/2012/04/ontario-court-of-appeal-upholds-billboard-tax/#comment-484605668

            “Ask Sick Kids Hospital how they feel about your simple viewpoint…”

            I’m not sure if you’re purposely glossing over that but I tried to give you a starting point. I can’t help willful ignorance in others.

            “I often try to communicate with people in order to learn things, and have formed my opinion after thinking about it for some time.”

            You’re on the internet. Not a UofT seminar.

          • Anonymous

            So your proposal is that charities currently spend 100% of their advertising budget on billboards because that’s the only form of advertising that works, and so they would be unable (or unwilling) to spend it on other forms? That doesn’t seem entirely plausible to me, but if it’s true (or even if a less over-the-top version of it is true), then that would definitely be a downside.

            Or perhaps you’re implying that Sick Kids gets a lot of money from putting up billboards on properties they own? If they are getting so much money, then a small tax shouldn’t be a terrible burden to them (and I suspect there are tax-relief programs available to them). If it’s so little money that a 4–7% tax rate would make it unprofitable, then perhaps it’s not actually that much of a concern to them after all…

            I’ll agree that taking some subsidization away from the owners of buildings (who are imposing on the public to get this subsidy) will be a bit of a burden, but as with the potential loss of jobs, I believe that not being advertized to will make me happier than their loss of money makes me sad.

            Finally, I find I often learn things when discussing issues on the internet with people. I would certainly have found it an easier conversation to have if you had just stated your points up front, instead of making vague allusions, and telling me to guess what you were thinking, but as you say, it’s the internet, and if I didn’t get any value out of chatting with you, I’m free not to reply.

            Thanks,
            Blake.

          • Anonymous

            Charities don’t pay for advertising nor do they have a budget. The ads are 99% of the time donated by a creative agency and the space to put the ads are donated by the billboard companies.

            Advertising is generally how charities reach new donors. If you put the billboard out of business, this channel is lost. Not to mention, creative agencies will shrink, therefore there are less agencies to donate the creative materials as many of these agencies rely on outdoor in their media buys to pay people like Derek Jensen their paycheques.

            Ya dig?

          • Toronto Guy

            Ask me about how I feel that Sick Kids calls me three times a week to solicit donations when I already give a significant amount each year.

            Billboards are NOT even nearly the only way charities reach people.

            Don’t be such a simpleton.

          • Anonymous

            I never said its the only way. It’s a very successful channel though.

          • Anonymous

            If that’s the case you’re a bigger idiot than first thought.
            1. Tell them not to call anymore/remove from list
            2. Add your number to the do not call list (they even have it on the internet now)
            3. All fails? Use technology to block the number you luddite.

            Voila! Done!

            But than again we’re talking about you. A coward. A passive-aggressive coward – so it makes perfect sense as it pertains to you as an individual. The rest of us have already figured this all out.

            Good luck. Hopefully the above info is useful to you.
            Now you can stop being polite to them on the phone, yelling at your spouse about it and then go crying on the internet about it.

          • Anonymous

            He wants you to believe that anything bad for billboards is fatal for charities, because, it would seem, the only way charities reach the public is through billboards.

          • Anonymous

            So you believe it’s not bad for charities?

            He “believes” that it will only cost a “few jobs” I’m pointing out it’s not that simple.

            Why don’t you read things first you troll?

          • Anonymous

            Ah, thanks for pointing that out.

          • Anonymous

            I would love for someone to explain to me how taking away 100% of advertising for charities is a good thing?

            I mean if you’d rather go through some b/s neuro-masturbation go ahead, but the facts are the facts.

          • Anonymous

            T.Rek doesn’t want you to know that he’s a disgruntled employee of Endeavour Media – who create billboard advertisements and buy/sell the city’s public space to pay his paycheque.

            Full disclosure is a bitch.

          • Anonymous

            Yawn again.

            I have nothing to do with billboard advertising – or even transit shelter advertising – as 99% of what we do for them is for internal use or use by their clients.

            It’s flattering that you remembered though, and that you’ve decided to reply to absolutely everything I post.

          • Anonymous

            Lollerz

            Shouldn’t bite the hand that feeds you. You have zero concept of where your company’s money comes from?

            I’ll be sure to ask your media reps how they feel about that. Ad world is a small one. Remember that.

            Either way. Youre just a disgruntled employee and a hypocrite. Good on you!

  • Anonymous

    save the billboards!

  • http://twitter.com/syncros Frank

    the money raised should be used to nuke those damn ultrabright LCD signs along the Gardiner from space.

    • Anonymous

      Speaking of ultrabright abominations, what’s with the visual assault next to Fran’s on College? What’s the point of advertising that’s so bright you can’t even look at it?

      • Anonymous

        That Fran’s sign too!!!!! Burn it, it hurts my poor sensitive eyyyeeeesssss

  • Toronto Guy

    Yea. Zero downside. Like it or not, at least broadcast/print/online advertising subsidizes content (to a smaller degree than most would like, but anyway). What does this subsidize? Not a thing.

    • Anonymous

      It also subsidizes owner’s with costs of maintaining buildings in the city as costs skyrocket.

      • Toronto Guy

        Oh, my mistake. Here I thought that that’s what the rent charged to their tenants was for. But wtf do I know.

        • Anonymous

          Ummm… Subsidy, skyrocketing costs… Never mind, you wouldn’t get it anyways.

          • Toronto Guy

            Come now. You can do better than that. I know you can! Try again. I’ll wait.

          • Toronto Guy

            My mistake. Apparently you cannot.

          • Anonymous

            Figure out how to get rid of ppl that call you for money. Then we can have this discussion.
            You have to learn how to walk before you can run.

  • Devon

    Here is the beautifulcity.ca release: http://beautifulcity.ca/bcbf.asp?id=22

    • Anonymous

      Believe it or not, but some of us already think Toronto is beautiful.
      It smells like patchouli in here. Do you smell that?

      • Toronto Guy

        Troll Guy is Trolling.

        • Anonymous

          Irony escapes you?

  • Anonymous

    Dollars to donuts Rob Ford will kill this tax, and come next election his big, fat face will fill billboards rights across this city.

    • Rami

      Rob Ford will not be killing this tax. The administration had a chance to kill the tax by not appealing the lower court decision; that time is gone and Council decided unanimously to appeal.

  • Anonymous

    People that live in a huge city who hate living in a huge city.

    Now if we can just paint everything white, get rid of first party signage and ban psa’s we could reach utopia

    • Anonymous

      What about huge cities necessitates giant billboards? They seem to me to be much more of a rural/highway thing.

      Also, you seem to be committing a combined ad-hominem and slippery-slope fallacy.

      • Anonymous

        Billboards date back to the 1700s with the invention of the lithograph

        The first major billboard was displayed in Paris in the early 1800′s and everyone knows Paris is a rural landscape :P Also to state the obvious, the car wasn’t invented yet… Hrmm… what were you saying about highways only?

        So billboards have been part of history in large cities for over 200 years. Therefore billboards are part of what makes up large cities (typically found in high traffic areas, yes that includes PEDESTRIAN). So if you don’t like them. Move to Flin Flon…

        “Also, you seem to be committing a combined ad-hominem and slippery-slope fallacy.”

        The only “fallacy” being “committed” here is your own ignorance to the facts. Reactionaries are the way of the future!!!!! NIMBY 4 L!!!!!!!!!!!!

      • Anonymous

        “What about huge cities necessitates giant billboards?”

        Absolutely nothing. A few cities have realized this too, and have banned billboards outright or in large areas. As I recall São Paulo started the trend, and a few years ago Montreal was talking about banning them on the Plateau.

        • Anonymous

          n/m

          • Anonymous

            We’re all impressed you can use LinkedIn, Keven Ages.

            How about some disclosure from you? Like how you worked as a web developer for Astral and OneStop, and your anti-billboard-tax position is tied directly (unlike mine, because as I said I don’t do advertising) to your pay cheque?

            Your trolling and cowardly pot shots are amusing.

          • Anonymous

            BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!

            You think I’m Keven Ages? We’re laughing at you!!!!!! Keven says hi! My tits are jiggling!!!

            Enjoy your Google juice Derek Jensen, Toronto, Graphic Artist, Endeavour Media! Tell Mark I’ll see him next week at the Spoke Club! <3

            P.S. You should really be working instead of spreading FUD about the industry that feeds you! Don't worry, you'll be job poor soon, but Google rich!!!! Awesome huh?

          • Toronto Guy

            Oh, Keven. Tell your lovely wife I say hello (this, hopefully, doesn’t give away who *I* am)

          • Anonymous

            Keven has a penis. I do not.

          • Anonymous

            They’re on to us. Reload.

          • Toronto Guy

            Whatever you say.

          • Anonymous

            My wife?

          • Toronto Guy

            Yes.

          • Anonymous

            Who shall I say, says hi?

          • Toronto Guy

            Your, misplaced comma perhaps?

          • Anonymous

            Coward

          • Toronto Guy

            LOL if you say so.

          • Anonymous

            I’m not posting anon you are. Someone that doesn’t value friendship very much.

          • Toronto Guy

            Getting a little cramped in here, wouldn’t you say?

          • Anonymous

            You should probably disclose the billboard company you work for. Want me to?

      • Anonymous

        There is also NYC’s Time Square in which people actually visit from all over the world. Same goes in Hong Kong (can’t remember the name off hand)

  • http://paul.kishimoto.name Paul Kishimoto

    I wonder which angry sixteen-year-old hijacked torontothegreat’s account.

    • Anonymous

      *taps nose*