GABBY CALUGAY-CASUGA – OTTAWA • ON | 21-05-2021
Business, Community, Justice
Horizon Ottawa and Ottawa ACORN are organizing a community picnic and protest on May 25 at 458 Montreal Rd.
The #PeopleOverPorshes action is being organized by the groups in response to the Finance and Economic Development Committee of Ottawa’s (FEDCO) decision to recommend that city council give the business Mrak Holdings Inc. approximately $2.9 million dollars in tax breaks while developing a new Porsche dealership.
Sam Hersh, from Horizon Ottawa, spoke at the FEDCO meeting on May 18 when this decision was made. Hersh said he is upset at FEDCO’s decision and that is part of why Horizon Ottawa is helping to organize this the May 25 protest.
“This idea sort of began as a joke thing. The idea is to poke fun at the idea that this is going to be a community space. We decided that we are going to take over this space and make it a community space. We’re going to take their words and turn them on its head,” Hersh said.
The money to incentivize Mrak Holdings’ development comes from the city’s Community Improvement Plan. The City of Ottawa website said the Community Improvement Plan seeks to encourage development of cultural assets, support businesses, encourage urban renewal and contribute to making the city an attractive and business friendly environment.
The community members who oppose giving Mrak Holdings a tax break said they do not believe a Porsche dealership will help the community or develop cultural assets. Philippe Denault expressed his opposition to the plan as a private citizen at Tuesday’s meeting.
“I believe the grant will not improve the community, it will improve the business of a particular,” Denault said. “To me, this is the equivalent to providing social assistance to a millionaire.”
Hersh made similar points to Denault, saying that a Porsche dealership will not help the community and it is absurd to suggest it will.
“To insinuate that a Porsche dealership would add to the community landscape is preposterous,” Hersh said. “The main argument from a lot of the people in the city and of this dealer is that this will add to the community. I mean I don’t know anyone in Vanier who would put publicly subsidizing a Porsche dealership at the top of their list.”
Christine McCuaig spoke on behalf of Mark Motors, which is associated with Mrak Holdings, at Tuesday’s FEDCO meeting. In her presentation, McCuaig explained that Mark Motors has been a part of the community for decades.
“Mark Motors of Ottawa is a family owned and run company that has been in Ottawa, and particularly Vanier, for over 60 years,” McCuaig said.
Michael Mrak of Mrak Holdings echoed the statement that their company has contributed to the community.
“Porsche doesn’t just want to build a dealership,” Mrak said. “They want to build a place that people can go into even when they are just curious… [We want to build] a place they are excited to go into and talk about, a place people can enjoy and talk to their friends and parents about, a place to remember.”
Hersh said that any arguments about the company’s contributions to community organizations and charities are irrelevant because these donations allow for the wealthy donors to enjoy more tax breaks. Hersh then said that even though some city councillors argue that the Community Improvement Grant is not going to use taxpayer dollars to subsidize the property taxes at the dealership, the public still stands to lose money from this plan.
“Something that we don’t talk about a lot and that we have to shift the conversation around is that money supposed to be taxed but goes untaxed is money we lose,” Hersh said. “A lot of people don’t frame it that way. They frame lowering taxes as the taxpayer saving money. But at the end of the day, if we’re not taxing this wealthy property owner then everyone is losing money.”