The mayors of Toronto and Ottawa would have even more powers


Allison Jones, The Canadian Press

TORONTO — The Ontario government is considering giving more powers to the mayors of Toronto and Ottawa, and is examining the role of other local governments, in a new bill the opposition calls undemocratic.

The bill introduced Wednesday is part of Doug Ford’s government’s effort to build 1.5 million housing units over 10 years. The government also revised downwards, earlier this week, its own projections for the construction of new units.

Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark said at a press conference Wednesday that government bureaucracy and red tape can sometimes hamper the construction of much-needed housing in Ontario.

Earlier this year, the Ford government gave the mayors of Toronto and Ottawa increased powers. These mayors can notably veto a by-law passed by the city council — such as a zoning by-law that would prevent residential construction.

Moreover, it is no longer the city council of Toronto or Ottawa, but the mayor, who is responsible for preparing and tabling the city’s budget, as well as hiring or firing service directors.

The bill tabled Wednesday would also allow the mayors of Toronto and Ottawa to propose regulations that align with the priorities of the provincial government, such as for housing. City council could pass these bylaws if more than a third of councilors vote in favour.

Ottawa’s new mayor said he was not in favor of such American-style « strong mayor » powers, but Minister Clark said Doug Ford hoped to meet with Mark Sutcliffe soon to discuss it.

Six other mayors

The bill also provides for the appointment of “facilitators” to assess regional governance in Durham, Halton, Niagara, Peel, Waterloo and York. These facilitators will be tasked with determining “the best way to divide roles and responsibilities between upper-tier and lower-tier municipalities,” with a view to eventually providing more powers to these mayors, as in Toronto and Ottawa.

“These six regions are large, with populations of approximately 500,000 or more, and they represent some of the fastest growing communities in Ontario, where increased housing supply is most needed. said Minister Clark.

« It doesn’t make sense to give someone the powers of strong mayors and then have another level of government objecting to shoveling dirt faster. »

Mr. Clark stressed that the purpose of the facilitators was not to consider municipal mergers or to recommend the elimination of certain upper-tier structures, but he said he did not want to « presuppose » discussions that will have venue.

« Challenge to Democracy »

Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner called the bill a “frontal attack” on democratic city council processes. “With these strong mayors on steroids, it actually introduces minority rule to the city council,” he said.

Jessica Bell, NDP housing critic, lamented that nothing in the bill addresses affordable housing. « This bill is designed to bulldoze local decision-making so that Premier Ford can wield more power, » she said. It is an affront to democracy.”

Minister Clark has already introduced another housing bill, which is under consideration, which would freeze, reduce and partially exempt the fees that developers pay, in order to stimulate residential construction.

Ontario’s fall economic update, released earlier this week, showed the government was revising its projections for new unit construction downwards. Minister Clark, however, said he still believes the province can meet the 1.5 million target.


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