Tax grab no reason to cheer

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The Supreme Court of Canada has dealt a blow to the collective history of this province. And politicians in Halifax Regional Municipality are celebrating.

The federal government and the city have been at loggerheads since the 1990s over valuating Citadel Hill – a Parks Canada property – for tax purposes. The municipality says the site’s worth $19 million. The feds say $10 because it can’t be developed.

Nineteen million is actually very reasonable, if the property is assessed for its commercial worth. And 10 bucks is obviously absurd. Yet none of us should be happy the court has decided Ottawa needs to pony up more taxes.

The Citadel isn’t a commercial property. It’s a spectacular historical site that drives tourism, is central to the identity of Halifax, and stands as a fascinating piece of military architecture built on a massive scale. It should no more be taxed as commercial real estate than it should be dynamited and built over with condos.

Increasing the cost of operating historic sites makes it harder to preserve them. Our guess is most historic sites, including the Citadel, are operated at a loss. Granted, the city absorbs some of those costs as well. But surely those expenses and more are recovered from the tourists who visit the iconic fortress. Tourists spend, and every time they spend businesses thrive, and thriving businesses are the life’s blood of any municipality.

Sorry, what’s that? The Citadel would be more valuable to the city if it WAS turned into a condo development, an office block, or a shopping mall? Maybe. But there’s more than one way to be rich. And a municipality that sacrifices beautiful public spaces for nominally fatter coffers will end up poor, literally and figuratively. Literally, because one greedy claw at a time you’ll kill the vibrancy of the community, and figuratively for the very same reason.

Stephen Harper is looking for places to cut public spending. We support the mission of reducing government. But this cash grab by HRM sends a clear, misguided signal to Harper: “We don’t value the Citadel.”

Why should Ottawa spend money on an asset the community doesn’t value?

Organizations: Supreme Court of Canada, Parks Canada

Geographic location: Ottawa

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