St. Catharines' crippling 10.5% property tax increase will push many to the brink
Niagara Region/City of St. Catharines

St. Catharines' crippling 10.5% property tax increase will push many to the brink

How did we get here?

In a word, mismanagement.

A year ago, transit in the Niagara area was re-organized as Niagara Region Transit, absorbing St. Catharines’ own transit system. Transit funding was moved from the city to the region. That did not mean St. Catharines would not have to pay its share for transit. Instead it would receive an invoice from the Region for the city’s portion of regional transit costs. Since St. Catharines covers 40 percent of all regional expenses, council knew that a significant bill — in the range of $12 to $14 million—was on its way.

Inexplicably, council and staff decided to treat the funds that had been budgeted for the old St. Catharines transit as “found money” instead of holding it back to cover the inevitable transit invoice from the Region. Staff and elected officials decided to take the money that was set aside for transit to spend on other things, including the hiring of 47 new employees and staff salary increases. 

When the bill for transit arrived from the Region as expected, council did not have the funds to pay it. And since the municipality cannot operate with a deficit, officials decided to slap the largest property tax increase in the city’s history on the people of St. Catharines.

This is especially noteworthy because Mayor Mat Siscoe led the budget committee for eight years and is one of our representatives at Regional Council. He is paid to understand how these things work and to prepare and lead appropriately.  Instead, we end up with a 10.5 percent tax increase that he and the six councillors who supported it would like to blame on the Region. 


Why this matters


The City’s historic tax increase comes when a recent report shows household debt in Ontario is at an all-time high: 52 percent of Ontarians are $200 away or less from not being able to pay all of their bills at the end of the month. Higher interest rates and a rising cost of living have stretched budgets of moderate income earners to their limits. Many seniors on fixed  and declining incomes are faced with having to leave homes they have lived in for years. The property tax increase puts homeownership even further out of reach for St. Catharines’ young families hoping to get a foot in the door of property ownership.

Remarkably, two weeks before passing this tax increase city council gave two developers over $14.6 million in grants to build luxury condos which, when added to similar grants made in the past two years, totals more than $35 million that has been granted to luxury housing projects. Effectively, our tax dollars are being used to subsidize luxury housing and the handsome profits enjoyed by the developers who lobby for them, while we are being taxed at record rates to help pay these subsidies.

It is an unsustainable and unfair burden on all citizens of St. Catharines.

Who voted for the tax increase?

Mayor Siscoe and Councillors Kevin Townsend, Caleb Ratzlaff, Robin McPherson, Mark Stevens, Greg Miller and Matt Harris fought for and have defended this record tax increase.  

Clockwise from top left, St. Catharines Mayor Mat Siscoe and councillors Greg Miller, Matt Harris, Robin McPherson, Caleb Ratzlaff, Kevin Townsend and Mark Stevens pushed for and have defended their record 10.5 percent tax increase.  

(Top left, Niagara Region; All other photos City of St. Catharines)


Nelson Mandela said, “Poverty is not an accident” and he was right. Poverty is often the result of failed leadership and misguided policy. St. Catharines City Hall’s leaders have been displaying much of both in recent years.



For some this increase will be nothing more than a minor additional expense, but for too many others the additional tax burden will have major impacts. An increase of this magnitude will be felt by all homeowners, renters, landlords and business owners small and large.

As is always the case, the most vulnerable will experience the greatest negative effects. Whether it’s seniors on fixed incomes, single parents struggling to get by, or young people hoping to enter the housing market, the crippling impact of this tax increase will be felt for years.

For a struggling family, this could easily take $50 a month out of their pocket, $50 that should have been used to put food on the table for their children.

It is ironic that council members who wring their hands in concern over the housing affordability crisis have no problem making housing even more unattainable. 

Some of the same members who claim to be concerned about the day-to-day financial struggles of the voters who put them in office, just turned their back on those very same people.


Ed Smith is a St. Catharines resident, a retired Canadian Air Force officer and a former member of the board of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority.

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