Toronto's mayor will soon have the power to do pretty much anything Doug Ford likes
As promised, Ontario's PC government tabled new legislation today that, if passed, would give the mayors of both Toronto and Ottawa super powers — but not the fun kind.
The Strong Mayors, Building Homes Act is meant to give the mayors of Ontario's two largest cities "more responsibility to deliver on shared provincial-municipal priorities," according to a press release issued by the province on Wednesday.
This roughly translates into letting the mayors hire their own department heads (with the exception of specific roles like Chief of Police and Integrity Commissioner), appoint chairs for local boards and committees, and propose their own municipal budgets — all tasks that are currently completed by city council as a whole.
Most significantly, this legislation would let a "strong mayor" veto any decision made by city council that "could interfere with a provincial priority."
I think a lot of the coverage will be about the merits of the strong mayor system versus the current one, but this bit is super weird. What mayoral system gives the mayor the power to veto bylaws based on state/provincial wishes? pic.twitter.com/XEk7EeuG1t— Arman Aghbali (@ArmanBazz) August 10, 2022
"Mayoral powers to veto by-laws approved by council and bring items for council consideration would only apply for matters relating to provincial priorities," reads the release.
"These priorities could include building 1.5 million new homes in 10 years to address the housing supply crisis, and the construction and maintenance of infrastructure, such as transit and roads, to support new and existing residential development."
It is not clear at this time what counts as a provincial priority, beyond building more homes, but the government says it will create "accompanying regulations" to set the priorities out if / when the legislation is passed.
This isn't a strong mayor system, it's a strong puppet system. Then again, did we really think that @fordnation (or any premier, for that matter) was going to allow the mayors of the two biggest cities in the province to in any way potentially rival him in power? https://t.co/jK5jXrno1Q— James Bow (KW-TO) (@JamesBowKWTO) August 10, 2022
Critics aren't thrilled by what some see as a "puppet-like" system, where the province can essentially use the mayors of Toronto and Ottawa to control municipal policy.
Ford's strong-mayor proposal for Toronto & Ottawa massively undermines local democracy & accountability. His mayors can overrule budgets & bylaw approvals, politicize the public service & basically anything not aligned with Ford's provincial priorities.https://t.co/Q9E9vLE4B6— Kristyn Wong-Tam 黃慧文 (they/them) (@kristynwongtam) August 10, 2022
The proposed changes to mayoral powers will take effect on Nov. 15 of this year, if all goes as planned for Ford and friends, which means that we also don't know exactly who Ontario's new "strong mayors" will be.
Doug Ford’s “Strong Mayor” legislation doesn’t create housing or strengthen Toronto. It weakens our local democracy, diminishes councillors’ ability to hold a mayor to account & with a veto for provincial objectives, in the wrong hands the mayor becomes a servant of Queen’s Park.— Josh Matlow (@JoshMatlow) August 10, 2022
Both Toronto and Ottawa are holding municipal elections at the end of October. If incumbents John Tory and Jim Watson secure another term, they'll be the province's first mayors with U.S.-style veto powers.
It's a concept many online aren't entirely comfortable with for Ontario, chiefly because of how much more power this move would seemingly give the province.
"So, not actually strong mayor powers. More like, mayors to act as premier's henchmen powers," wrote one local on Twitter of the proposed legislation.
"In other words: Doug Ford gets to tell the mayors of Toronto and Ottawa what to do," wrote another. "How is this a 'strong mayor'?"
Ford’s Strong Mayor proposal has nothing to do with housing as he himself already admitted. It’s about this Premier giving mayors the power to help him bypass councils, override local bylaws and stifle consultation. https://t.co/temylZj9v5— Jeff Burch (@JeffBurch_) August 10, 2022
There is somewhat of a safeguard in place, under the legislation as written, to prevent a power-hungry politician from making poor decisions: Council would also be able to override the mayor's veto of any budget amendments or by-laws related to provincial priorities with a two-thirds majority vote.
"The reality is over one third of Ontario's growth over the next decade is expected to happen in Toronto and Ottawa, and too many families are already struggling with housing and the rising cost of living," said Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark when announcing the news.
"We need to support efficient local decision-making to help cut through red tape and speed up development timelines."
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