Advertisers label proposed Toronto by-law ‘unrealistic’

Advertising representatives say a by-law slated for debate Monday at a special sitting of Toronto city council could have a detrimental effect on the industry if passed.

The New Sign Regulation and Revenue Strategy would levy a tax on all signs and billboards in Toronto, with the revenue going towards funding arts and culture projects, city beautification and enforcing the by-law. Of the $10.4 million that the tax is expected to raise annually, $1.8 million would go towards by-law enforcement.

But some advertisers say the by-law would effectively cripple their industry because the tax is too high. Rosanne Caron is the president of OMAC, the Out-of-Home Marketing Association of Canada. She told

“The city is basically putting in an unfair and punitive tax that will threaten the survival of our industry. We should all be concerned about that because it contributes to Toronto’s economy.”

According to her, the $10.4 million tax is 21 per cent higher than the $8.6 million profit the industry makes annually.

“It’s not sustainable… There’s no rationale for any of this,” Caron said. “It’s totally unrealistic.”

Councillor Joe Mihevc (Ward 21, St. Pauls West), one of the by-law’s primary supporters, says the proposed bill has significant public support. He cited an Environics poll that says 70 per cent of Torontonians agreed with the by-law.

“The vast majority of Torontonians say if the billboards are taxed and that money goes towards public art and beautifying public spaces, they’re very supportive of that,” he said.

Mihevc disputes the numbers presented by the ad industry. He feels gross revenue generated through advertising is higher than reported.

“Their math simply does not work,” he said.

Devon Ostrom is the co-founder of Beautiful City, one of the many advocacy groups that have been lobbying city council for a billboard tax since 2003. He thinks the by-law would transform the city for the better.

“We want to make an environment that is vibrant and engaging, and [contribute to] a city that people would love to be a part of.”

Not all councillors supported the by-law. Karen Stintz, councillor for Ward 16 Eglinton Lawrence, questioned the need for a tax supporting local arts.

“There are other ways we get money for public art,” she said. “We should look at all the avenues open to us, and not just look at [taxing] one industry.”

Caron remains convinced that the proposed by-law is an excuse for the city to cut corners in next year’s budget.

“This isn’t really about billboards versus funding art,” she said. “If the city feels that it’s necessary to fund the arts… then it should be included in their general budget. They shouldn’t be singling out one industry.”