Legislation of the “strong mayor” weak law that will not solve the problems of the city

The Ford government has tabled a bill that would give “strong mayor” powers to the mayors of Toronto and Ottawa, initially. This unexpected announcement (it didn’t come up in the provincial election) was warmly welcomed by Mayor John Tory of Toronto, and perhaps less warmly by Mayor Jim Watson of Ottawa.

Since the July announcement, the idea has received increasing media attention, mostly from critics and skepticism. The most frequent reaction is “why is this measure necessary?” A good question indeed, at least in Toronto’s case.

Mayor Tory was able to win just about every vote he wanted to win, as Shawn Micallef of the Toronto Star notes, “with his endless political capital and control over council that makes other mayors jealous.”

This legislation is unprecedented and marks a huge change in the governance of municipalities in Ontario. Urban municipalities are governed by democratically elected municipal councils. The decisions of municipal governments have been the collective responsibility of these elected councils – not the singular responsibility of any member. Although democracy is not always perfect, citizens of urban municipalities are generally satisfied with their form of representative government.

Legislation assumes that the best form of governance is one where a person has autocratic powers to allow them to do whatever they want. In our view, the best form of municipal governance is one where the mayor must gain the support of council by providing strong leadership and championing well-thought-out initiatives, while respecting the needs and wishes of councilors across the city.

This last point raises the question of the impact of a strong mayor on ward councillors. Will the “strong mayor” system diminish the role of the local elected representative? Will the question at election time become “can he/she work with the mayor’s agenda?” rather than “will he/she represent the interests of the service?” »

And on a more fundamental level, how does the “strong mayor” tackle the main problem facing the City of Toronto — its growing financial problems? This year, the funding gap is in the order of $800 million; next year it is much larger, in part because the province has amended development charge legislation and the Planning Act.

For example, changing Section 37 (Community Benefits) from a “density bonus” to a land value rate base is believed by city staff to reduce Toronto’s Section 37 revenue. by 40%. The fundamental imbalance between the city’s revenue needs and its overreliance on property taxes, and the annual begging excursion to Queen’s Park is not new, but it is getting worse, and dangerously so.

Toronto is a dynamic driving force in the province and should not be treated that way. By offering Toronto and Ottawa a “strong mayor,” is the Prime Minister prescribing a placebo designed to mask the real problem of provincial dominance over cities—and the province’s continued refusal to provide the tools of revenue? what does the city need?

While there are political issues with this legislation, it also raises a fundamental and under-recognized municipal governance issue – the relationship between the council and the civil service.

The bill gives the head of council the power to “determine the organizational structure of the city” and “to hire, revoke or exercise any other prescribed employment powers with respect to the head of any division or of the head of any other part of the city”. organizational structure.”

It is proposed that this last power apply generally, with specific exceptions with respect to the clerk, treasurer and positions designated by law, such as the medical officer of health.

The municipal governance model in Ontario separates the political world from the bureaucratic world to ensure that politicians receive impartial advice from the public service, which is at the heart of the “Westminster model”. As such, the city manager is responsible for the management of city staff and reports to the council, not to the mayor or individual councilors directly.

According to the American model, the strong mayor hires (and fires) key city officials. The result is a politicization of the hiring process and a lack of impartial advice. Will the next step be to give the Premier the power to hire (and fire) Ontario Public Service managers?

Where are the studies to show that the current process is not working? The separation of political and bureaucratic powers worked well for over a century. A change of this magnitude should not be introduced into a ad hoc way without consultation or control. No doubt, the legislation should be withdrawn.

Geoff Kettel is president of the Federation of Urban Neighborhoods.

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