What all Toronto mayoral candidates should say about being a ‘strong mayor’

I have never written a speech for a mayor of Toronto. No one ever asked me to put words in their mouth.

But now, unsolicited, I am offering this script to all mayoral candidates in the upcoming municipal elections. Our next mayor will be the first to govern under the “strong mayor” provisions enacted by Premier Doug Ford.

The new job description received considerable, largely negative, media attention. A recurring criticism has been that Ford should have announced this plan during the recent provincial election campaign and allowed the public to pass judgment on it at the ballot box.

The same principle now applies to our next municipal elections. Mayoral candidates should tell us how they intend to govern in this new “strong mayor” regime.

What should Toronto’s next mayor say? Here’s what the townspeople and the Premier need to hear…

My fellow Torontonians,

I am honored to seek the position of mayor of this great city. My greatest duty is to advance the welfare of this city and all its inhabitants.

I want to let you know, clearly and in plain language, how I see — and intend to govern under — Premier Doug Ford’s plan to make me a « strong mayor. »

Simply put, his plan will weaken our municipal government and not produce more affordable housing. Instead, this so-called “strong mayor” plan is actually about protecting the prime minister and his government.

So what are the warning signs in this new “strong mayor” plan?

You have probably heard of its key elements. Let me remind you of the three main provisions. They will allow the mayor to: 1) personally veto decisions of our 26-member city council that run counter to “prescribed provincial priority”; 2) have exclusive authority to hire and fire senior city officials; and 3) having greater exclusive control over the city budget.

All this is supposed to promote the construction of more housing. But I agree with Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson, who said he saw no connection between these new mayoral powers and more housing.

Rather, we need the province to use the powers it already has to build more housing. Premier Ford should meet province-wide inclusive residential zoning requirements; requiring developers to make a minimum percentage of all new residential construction affordable; increase investment in non-profit housing as the surest path to affordability.

Instead, the Prime Minister’s « strong mayor » plan is effectively to turn mayors into provincial law enforcement officers at city hall. I fear that I am under constant pressure from the province to overrule the council’s decisions. The Prime Minister also hopes that this decision will « offload » the blame for our housing problems onto the mayor’s office.

My job is to advance the interests of the city and its people. That’s what your local elected council is there for. Let’s have real solutions to real problems.

My problem as mayor is not the other 25 members of council. Their contribution is important to the city and to you, its residents.

I don’t want — nor any mayor — to have unilateral power over city staff. This would make them subordinate to a single board member.

It does not provide the comprehensive and professional leadership that we need from staff. And that would mean a revolving door of staff after each new mayor takes office. One only has to look at the United States to see the dangers involved.

What I need to do my job better is more leeway to generate income and make decisions that affect our daily lives.

So, going forward, I promise Toronto residents:

1. My duty is to the city and the people of Toronto, not to the provincial government.

2. I will not exercise a right of veto on the decisions of the board. The province has the power to do so if it wishes.

3. In keeping with current Municipal Lobbyist Registry requirements, I will notify City Council whenever I am contacted by provincial authorities to veto a decision of Council.

4. I will leave the recruitment of senior staff and the preparation of the city budget in the hands of the full city council.

If you agree, mark an X next to my name on Election Day, October 24.

Myer Siemiatycki is Emeritus Professor of Politics at Toronto Metropolitan University.

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