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Steve Clark, Ontario’s Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, speaks to journalists at the Queens Park Legislature in Toronto on Nov. 16.Chris Young/The Canadian Press

Just over two months after granting the mayors of Toronto and Ottawa “strong mayor powers,” Ontario’s Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing is proposing to make these powers even stronger, allowing mayors in these cities to pass certain bylaws with just a third of the votes on their councils.

The bill introduced in the legislature on Wednesday by Minister Steve Clark also sets the stage for sweeping changes to the sprawling regional governments that surround Toronto, allowing him to hand pick three regional chairs and launching a review of this level of government.

Opposition critics and some local politicians say Mr. Clark’s proposals are anti-democratic, coming just weeks after municipal voters went to the polls.

But Don Peat, a spokesman for Toronto Mayor John Tory, confirmed in a statement that the mayor asked for the new powers “to make sure we can get more housing built as quickly as possible, to avoid NIMBYism, and to help make sure this new system works as efficiently as possible.”

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Mr. Peat said Mr. Tory made the request before last month’s municipal vote. He did not mention it during the campaign.

Mr. Clark said the changes are needed to address the province’s housing crisis and achieve his goal of building 1.5 million new homes over the next decade – a goal he said was made more urgent by the federal government’s recently announced target to welcome 500,000 immigrants a year.

Under legislation just passed in September, the mayors of Ottawa and Toronto were give veto power over council decisions that conflict with a designated provincial priority, which the government says is any decision related to building more housing. A veto could only be overridden by a two-thirds vote on council.

Now, under the proposed Better Municipal Governance Act, these mayors would also be able to get a bylaw approved with the support of just one-third of their councils, provided it aligns with the province’s priorities. The latest changes would allow, for example, Mr. Tory and just eight of Toronto’s 25 councillors to approve a high-rise housing project, even if a majority of Toronto’s council objected.

Toronto city councillor Josh Matlow called it “an assault on Toronto’s local democracy” and said the mayor should instead be standing against it. Councillor Gord Perks said the move “has once again disempowered” Torontonians and would see decision-making concentrated in a small group around the mayor.

Myer Siemiatycki, professor emeritus in the department of politics and public administration at Toronto Metropolitan University, called the move “unprecedented.” He said he was unaware of any political system “that would claim to be democratic” while allowing decisions to be made with less than a majority vote.

If passed, the bill would also allow Mr. Clark to unilaterally appoint the incumbent regional chairs in Niagara, Peel and York Regions, posts normally elected by those bodies’ regional councillors. He said the move would provide stability as the government reviews regional governments.

Mr. Clark says he intends to appoint “facilitators” to look at expanding strong mayor powers to other cities and redistributing responsibilities between “upper tier” regions – Niagara, Peel, Durham, York, Halton and Waterloo – and the “lower tier” cities and towns that comprise them. In another housing bill, Mr. Clark has already proposed stripping the upper-tier regions of their planning responsibilities, even though they oversee water and sewers and other infrastructure.

But Mr. Clark’s intention to reappoint York regional councillor Wayne Emmerson as that region’s chair looked set to short circuit a vote on Thursday at council that Joe Li, a York regional councillor from Markham, told The Globe and Mail he believed he had the votes lined up to win. If elected by his fellow regional councillors, Mr. Li would be the first-ever chair of York Region of Chinese ethnicity, in a municipality home to one of Canada’s largest Chinese communities.

“I thought we lived in Canada, which campaigns about democracy,” Mr. Li said. “That’s why we sent thousands of people to fight in Afghanistan. … So I have difficulty understanding what’s going on here.”

Mr. Emmerson could not be reached on Wednesday.

In Mississauga, which has long chafed at being part of Peel Region, Mayor Bonnie Crombie hopes the government’s review leads to her community becoming a standalone city.

“There’s a lot of duplication, red tape that exists,” Ms. Crombie said of her region. “It’s a whole other layer that’s unnecessary.”

It’s the latest in a series of interventions by Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives in local politics. In 2018, Mr. Ford cut Toronto city council almost in half in the middle of that city’s election campaign. At the same time, he also blocked moves to allow residents to directly elect the chairs of Peel Region and York Region. Former PC leader and the current mayor of Brampton, Patrick Brown, was a candidate in Peel at the time. Steven Del Duca, the former provincial Liberal leader who is now mayor of Vaughan, was running in York.

The bill is just the latest in a series of recent housing proposals from Mr. Clark, who has proposed building homes on swaths of the protected Greenbelt, breaking a repeated promise.

Earlier Wednesday, former Toronto mayor John Sewell was removed from Queen’s Park after he demanded the right to address a committee of MPPs examining another housing bill moved by Mr. Clark. That draft legislation, Bill 23, which would make a wide range of changes, including slashing the fees developers on certain projects pay to municipalities for parks and other infrastructure.

“This is just insane,” Mr. Sewell, who was mayor from 1978 to 1980, said in an interview. “This is serious anti-democracy.”

The government-controlled committee holding hearings on the bill also denied the Association of Municipalities of Ontario a slot to speak. In a written submission, AMO says Bill 23 would harm the environment and cost municipalities $1-billion a year in lost fees without lowering house prices.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article misspelled the last name of York regional councillor Wayne Emmerson.