small business fast food toronto

Huge fast-food chains are somehow eligible for Toronto small business tax cuts

The last couple of years have been especially tough on small businesses, lockdowns forcing many to close their doors for good and pushing others to the brink.

Fighting back against the empty storefronts and papered windows, the City of Toronto approved a new tax subclass in November, cutting 15 per cent from the commercial rate for select small businesses.

But there's just a bit of a problem, as many of the eligible businesses appear to be giant fast-food and coffee chains like Starbucks, McDonald's, Pizza Pizza, and Tim Hortons.

City Hall analyst Matt Elliott has taken a deep dive on the subject in his weekly newsletter, poring through city data to determine just how many fast-food and coffee chains are eligible for this tax break designed for smaller mom-and-pop-type businesses.

And, well, it's a lot.

Hundreds of restaurants with multiple franchise locations are included in Elliott's list of eligible businesses, including international brands. Subway and Starbucks top the list with 29 and 24 eligible locations, respectively, while Canadian chains Pizza Pizza and Tim Hortons both have 23 listed sites eligible for the tax break.

Further down the list, globally-recognized pizza chain Domino's Pizza with 18 locations, while other international restaurant brands like Popeye's, McDonald's, Pizza Hut, and Kentucky Fried Chicken also appear on the list.

And while not restaurants, it's just a bit strange to see predatory lending businesses like Money Mart and Cash Money with 22 combined locations eligible for a city tax cut.

These numbers only represent a fraction of the businesses actually eligible for the tax break, with Elliott stating that he "managed to find business names for just 6,374 of the 29,020 addresses listed in the dataset," meaning there are likely a whole lot more.

So, how did we get here?

The city's criteria for the tax cut do not consider a brand's market recognition. Instead, a commercial property is considered eligible if it has an assessed value of no more than $1 million. In specific areas with higher land values, the threshold is adjusted to assessed values at or below $7 million on lot sizes no larger than 7,500 square feet.

That leaves a lot of wiggle room for more established businesses to get in on the savings, a concern noted by councillors when the tax break was up for debate last year.

It makes sense for some like Subway, with independently-franchised restaurants, but these businesses have globally-known brands that can give them the edge over other small businesses.

Elliott notes that "it's important to remember the tax breaks going to these addresses won't necessarily flow through to the businesses using the properties" as property taxes are paid by property owners, which are often landlords unrelated to the business in question. They are under no obligation to pass on the savings to businesses.

Of course, there will also be countless small businesses that meet the traditional definition of the term benefitting from this tax cut. However, it's still a clear example of how difficult it can be for politicians to create blanket criteria to define what exactly constitutes a small business.

Lead photo by

Jack Landau

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