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If city council fails to institute a "strong mayor" system, the province could impose one on the city, according to a provision in the new City of Toronto Act that Premier Dalton McGuinty will unveil this morning.

The act will give Toronto more powers than other municipalities, but sources at Queen's Park said yesterday the province is reluctant to cede such power unless a way is found to govern the city more responsibly.

Under a strong mayor system, which is being considered by council, the mayor would have the authority to appoint council committee chairs, who would form an executive committee that makes routine decisions -- a change that would likely nudge mayoral candidates toward campaigning alongside slates of allied candidates for council.

Mr. McGuinty had initially said the new act would be conditional on the City of Toronto adopting a stronger governance model.

But he told reporters in Milwaukee, Wis., where he signed an accord to ban large-scale water diversions from the Great Lakes basin, that "my very strong sense is that they [councillors]are moving on that. . . . I'm confident they will develop a stronger governance model."

He says the new act strikes the right balance between giving the city broad powers that no other city in the province has and changes that would give it unique, but not radically different, powers than other Ontario municipalities.

"I think we've really succeeded in moving the yardstick forward. Some people will complain that we've gone too far and others will complain that we have not gone far enough," Mr. McGuinty said.

The Premier, who like many of his cabinet colleagues is privately dismayed by the disarray they see in the way Toronto is governed, wants the city to have a strong mayor system, and will make sure that happens even as the new act cuts some of the strings that previous governments have tied around the city, the sources said.

But first, the city will get a chance to change itself, said the Queen's Park sources, who asked to not be named because they have seen the proposed legislation and are committed not to comment on it until it is made public.

"What the province will be doing is watching very carefully what the city does. We anticipate the city taking into consideration the views at Queen's Park and the Premier that we should have a stronger mayor system put in place," one of them said.

One source said the province could have imposed governance changes on the city in a high-handed fashion, as the former government of Mike Harris did with amalgamation, or, as the new act will, give council the power to unilaterally make the changes.

It chose neither, the sources said.

Imposition of change from above runs against the grain of the new act, which is designed to give the city powers it does not have now, and the desire of the province to show that it can have better relations with the city than the Harris government had.

But giving council a free hand to make governance changes runs the risk that no changes will be made, even though the province wants them.

The province took a third option of retaining the power to impose change by order-in-council if, at some point in the next year, it concludes that council is unwilling to do what needs to be done. This position gives council control over the changes, if it wants to make them, the sources said.

"The way the City of Toronto Act is likely to be written will allow us as a province to be able to make those changes through an order-in-council. The act will allow them to be able to adjust their structure. If the city voluntarily works to do this, it wouldn't require an order-in-council," one source said.

Even with the province holding in reserve the hammer of imposed changes to city governance, changes in the governance structure will not come without a fight.

At a council committee two weeks ago, former mayor David Crombie denounced proposals for a strong mayor system that were made in a report from a three-person panel.

Mr. Crombie's objection slowed down the adoption of a new structure, approval of which had been expected at last week's council meeting.

After a two-day debate, council approved the broad outlines of a strong mayor system, but delayed final consideration of the changes until May, which leaves time for public consultation.