Toronto and Ottawa can enact bylaws with the support of a minority of councillors and the provincial government can appoint certain regional chairs with the passage Thursday of a “strong mayor” law that caps off a whirlwind of widely criticized housing-related moves.
In the last few months the Progressive Conservative government has passed two pieces of legislation giving powers to the mayors of Toronto and Ottawa that critics have called antidemocratic and passed a law that cuts fees developers pay and municipalities use to fund infrastructure for new homes.
Environmentalists also say the latter law weakens the role of conservation authorities and they have criticized the government for proposing to remove land from 15 different areas of the protected Greenbelt so that 50,000 homes can be built, while adding acres elsewhere.
The government says the laws and regulatory changes are all in service of its goal of building 1.5 million homes in 10 years. It’s a target that has been falling further from reach, with high inflation and interest rates driving projections for new housing starts to levels far short of the 150,000 new homes needed annually.
Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark was not made available to answer reporters’ questions after the passage of his latest legislation, but he did release a promotional-style video for it Thursday on Twitter.
“Ontario is in a housing supply crisis and the situation is serious,” he said over footage of home construction and stirring music.
“Some of our proposals have been controversial, but we knew from the start that real change would not be easy and that those who benefit from the status quo would stand in our way.”
The latest bill allows the province to appoint the regional chairs in Niagara, Peel and York, and boosts so-called strong mayor powers that the government gave to Toronto and Ottawa earlier this year.
The first set of powers allowed the leaders to veto council decisions deemed to hamper the creation of new homes, prepare and table the city’s budget, as well as hire and fire department heads. The new powers allow them to propose housing-related bylaws and pass them with the support of one-third of councillors.
However, while Toronto Mayor John Tory has said he will use the powers in a limited and responsible way, Ottawa Mayor Mark Sutcliffe has said he is not interested in using them.
The legislation follows another housing law that angered municipalities because it cuts fees developers pay, which communities use to build infrastructure for new homes, and upset environmentalists who say it weakens the role of conservation authorities.