Premier Doug Ford is set to give American-style “strong mayor” powers to the cities of Toronto and Ottawa, the Star has learned.
The sweeping change would dilute the influence of city councilors in Ontario’s two largest cities, giving mayors much more authority over financial matters and appointments.
Ford, long a supporter of mayors having more clout than councillors, wants chief justices in Toronto and Ottawa empowered to oversee budgets and act unilaterally if necessary.
Sources, speaking confidentially to discuss delicate internal deliberations, say the reforms are designed to improve city government and would be unveiled within weeks by Municipal Affairs Minister Steve Clark.
Asked what was happening on Tuesday, Clark’s office stressed that any imminent civic change would help tackle the housing crisis.
“We know that today in Ontario, too many families are excluded from the housing market,” Chris Poulos, the minister’s director of issues management, said in an email.
“That’s why we have a plan to build 1.5 million homes over the next 10 years and continue to explore ways to help municipalities build more homes faster,” Poulos said.
The City of Toronto Act, City of Ottawa Act and Municipalities Act should be amended to strengthen the powers of the mayor.
Only the mayors of Toronto and Ottawa would be granted the new power. There are no imminent plans to give similar powers to mayors in cities like Mississauga, Brampton, Hamilton or London.
Details are still being finalized and the matter has yet to be discussed by Ford’s full cabinet as the re-elected Progressive Conservative government prepares for the Aug. 9 Speech from the Throne outlining its platform.
Cabinet meets Wednesday at Queen’s Park, the same time Toronto City Council holds its last meeting before the municipal election this fall.
As Toronto City Council met on Tuesday night and news of the strong mayoral change spread, the council. Gord Perks asked for information on what Ford was doing.
“The Toronto Star reports that once again the Premier of Ontario believes that the people of Toronto are incapable of governing themselves and that he intends to introduce legislation that will create a mayoral system loud,” Perks told the adviser. Frances Nunziata, president of the city council. “I think it would be inappropriate for us to end our term without having the chance to discuss a potentially very, very significant change in the way the City of Toronto is governed.”
Nunziata agreed to consult with the city manager and the mayor’s office for more details by Wednesday.
It remains unclear whether the mayors of Toronto and Ottawa would benefit from the sweeping veto powers of their American counterparts.
Ford, who lived in Chicago for many years, often marveled at how the mayors of some American cities are able to function as chief executives.
The Conservatives, who want changes in place before the October 24 municipal elections, have stressed that no one should be surprised by the Prime Minister’s scheme.
He would indeed fulfill a promise he first reflected on in his 2016 book, “Ford Nation: Two Brothers, One Vision,” though he did not address the issue during the Ontario election campaign that year. year.
“If I ever get to the provincial level of politics, municipal affairs is the first thing I would want to change,” wrote the former city councilman, whose late brother Rob Ford served as mayor from 2010 to 2014.
“I think mayors across the province deserve greater powers. One person in charge, with veto power, similar to strong mayor systems in New York, Chicago and LA”
Under the current “weak mayor” system in Ontario, a mayor can drive an agenda by appointing committee chairs, but has only one vote on council and needs the support of a majority of advisors to make significant changes.
Toronto Mayor John Tory, who is seeking re-election for a third term this fall, has long argued that the leader of city council needs more than token power.
“I think people right now, they think I have the power to do a lot of things, and actually I have the power to do very little,” admitted Tory, who beat Ford in the race. at the 2014 town hall, at the Star’s David. Rider in 2018.
In some types of “strong mayor” systems, the chief magistrate can overrule city council decisions, fire and hire department heads, and control the budget.
It won’t be the first time Ford has forced a sweeping change on city council that he didn’t mention during a recent provincial election campaign.
Four years ago, as the Star first revealed, he unilaterally cut the size of Toronto City Council nearly in half even as that city campaign was underway.
In addition to cutting the number of councilors from 47 to 25 — to match ward boundaries to federal and provincial constituencies — Ford scrapped elections for regional presidents in Peel and York Regions.
This dampened the ambitions of Patrick Brown, a former Conservative leader who became mayor of Brampton, and Steven Del Duca, who later became Liberal leader and lost the June 2 provincial election.
But in October 2019, Ford and Clark scrapped further municipal reforms, scrapping a plan to overhaul regional governments that some say would force city and town mergers.
Critics of a “strong mayor” system argue that the city council acts as a check on office, ensuring a more consensual approach to municipal governance and preventing any mayor from going rogue.
Some also fear that, in Toronto at least, left-leaning councilors will see their influence diminish at city hall.
Toronto County Mike Layton said Ford’s proposed changes “could be a huge loss to democracy” if the new powers fell into the wrong hands. Specifically, Layton raised concerns that the new changes would wrest power away from city councilors on important issues like the annual budget.
“The budget is arguably the most important thing we go through all year. And it’s the product of councilors who reflect the will of their constituents. If all of a sudden you cut off those voices and give a mayor broad powers to potentially override these advisers, how does that serve democracy?”
Proponents – including the Star’s editorial board in 2008 – counter that a mayor should not be “just one voice among many on council, but a chief executive with the power to run the city…in especially its finances.
A 2005 report by the Governing Toronto Advisory Panel recommended a strong mayor as part of municipal reforms.
When then-Premier Dalton McGuinty passed the City of Toronto Act in 2006 – giving the provincial capital greater autonomy over its affairs, including increased taxation powers – he touted a system of “strong mayor”.
“It’s a question that’s independent of personalities, of political leanings,” McGuinty noted in 2008.
“It’s about ensuring that we have an effective governance model to help run an exciting large urban center here in North America at the start of the 21st century. I don’t think we have the model in place that allows them (Toronto City Council) to do that,” he said.
“I have already said that I am in favor of a strong mayor system and my support remains.”
David Miller, who was mayor of Toronto at the time, said he didn’t need such powers, so McGuinty’s Liberal government backed down.
However, Queen’s Park has warned that it would impose such a system if the city council is unable to make the changes needed to improve the chaotic budget-making process.
After navigating a debilitating budget crisis, Miller formed an expert panel, which concluded in 2008 that a 45-member city council was “heavy, difficult to manage, and diffused responsibility, authority, and accountability.”
But months later, the push for the “strong mayor” took a back seat as other issues came to dominate provincial and municipal politics after the 2008 global financial crisis.
Now he reappears just in time for the municipal elections in October.
There is no incumbent in the race for mayor of Ottawa, as Jim Watson is not seeking re-election.
So far, 10 candidates have registered, including former Mayor Bob Chiarelli, Coun. Catherine McKenney and broadcaster Mark Sutcliffe.
In Toronto, Tory faces 11 lesser-known challengers.
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