The Ontario government is going ahead with its promised extension of strong mayor powers to more municipalities, naming 26 communities where mayors will be allowed to pass bylaws related to the province’s goal of building more housing with just a third of their local councils in support.
The stronger powers, already in effect in Toronto and Ottawa, also give mayors control over their municipal budgets – allowing them to veto any amendments unless council can muster a two-thirds vote – and grants them the authority to hire top bureaucrats and set up new departments.
Many U.S. cities, such as Chicago and New York, give mayors much more clout than Ontario. But critics have seized on the new power to pass bylaws on “provincial priorities” with just a third of the votes on a council, calling it antidemocratic “minority rule.”
The province has set regulations that designate those priorities as contributing to the achievement of the government’s goal of getting 1.5 million homes built by 2031 and providing housing-related infrastructure, such as roads and sewer pipes.
Ontario Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark made the announcement on Friday, flanked by the soon-to-be strong mayors of Guelph, Burlington and London, after he and other cabinet ministers met at Queen’s Park with the mayors of the province’s largest cities.
The new powers, to take effect by regulation July 1, are being handed to municipalities that have more than 100,000 people, or are expected to by 2031, and have signed a “housing pledge” for their share of Ontario’s new-homes target.
The 26 include Barrie, Niagara Falls, Windsor, Hamilton, Mississauga and Markham. But the list excludes Newmarket, north of Toronto, where the local government has not signed its housing pledge.
The town’s mayor, John Taylor, said Newmarket has not signed on because it lacks the sewer capacity it needs to meet the housing target set for it by the province. To blame, he says, is the province’s decision to block a long-planned regional sewage plant and instead build pipes to an existing facility in Durham Region, which could take eight years. He also said he would not use the new powers anyway.
“I am not trying to be political and I am not trying to be difficult,” Mr. Taylor said in an interview, adding that he has made his case directly to Premier Doug Ford and Mr. Clark. “But the fact of the matter is we have highly constrained wastewater capacity in Newmarket.”
Patrick Brown, the former Ontario PC leader who is now the mayor of Brampton, rejects the idea the powers are antidemocratic, saying people think mayors already have them.
“Doug Ford spent time at Toronto City Hall. He understands how the system is inconsistent with what residents believe exists,” Mr. Brown said.
The Premier was a councillor in Toronto when his late brother Rob Ford was mayor and council voted in 2013 to strip him of most of his powers after his erratic behaviour and drug and alcohol abuse.
In Ottawa, Mayor Mark Sutcliffe has vowed not to use the “minority rule” power to pass bylaws. It was former Toronto mayor John Tory who actually asked Mr. Ford for this added measure last year, after the province had already announced its other plans to strengthen the mayor’s control of budgets and bureaucracy.
With a by-election under way after Mr. Tory’s resignation and admission of an affair with a subordinate, frontrunner Olivia Chow has already said she would not make use of the “minority rule” bylaw power, as have candidates Josh Matlow, Ana Bailão and Mitzie Hunter.