Editorial: Strong mayor powers is a power grab

Legislation announced June 16 by Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark will extend Ontario’s “Strong Mayor” powers to 26 more municipalities. Currently Toronto and Ottawa’s mayors enjoy these powers which enable a mayor and only one-third of the municipal council to pass certain bylaws that advance provincial priorities – currently addressing the housing crisis.

These “super powers” were enacted by the Ford Government in 2022 before the municipal election to kick start housing development. The province has pledged to build 1.5 million houses in the next 10 years – a pledge that many housing experts have said will not meet the growing needs in the province.

The 26 communities that will receive these “super powers” all have populations over 100,000 and have already made an official commitment to develop new housing. The danger of these anti-democratic “Strong Mayor” powers is two-fold.

It concentrates too much power within a municipal mayor’s office. For now, Clark’s plan is to give cities like Kingston, Cambridge, and Hamilton these super powers. At what point do more – and smaller – municipalities receive the same super powers? If extended to municipalities like South Dundas, with only one-third of council required to pass bylaws – a mayor would only need one other person at council to support that bylaw. So much for majority rule, or having a check-and-balance to municipal bylaws. To be clear, this round of legislation does not extend these super powers to South Dundas. When the “Strong Mayor” powers were granted to Toronto and Ottawa, Premier Doug Ford said only those cities would receive them – one year later, what changed?

The other danger is that the provincial government’s priority right now is housing, but priorities can easily change. Instead of more housing, that priority could change to green energy, waste reduction, or any other whim of the provincial government of the day. If those super powers were used for one of those priorities, it could mean local council opposition to wind turbines, mega landfills, mineral extraction, or a garbage incinerator could easily be overridden.

This legislation is nothing more than a power grab by the sitting government, ill-content with only running its own affairs. All 444 municipalities in Ontario exist at the will of the provincial government and could be remodelled or wiped out politically with a simple piece of legislation. If Clark, and by extension Ford, want to micromanage municipal affairs, they should enact the legislation needed to eliminate municipal councils altogether. Or if either individual wants to run a municipality of his own, both should step down and run for mayor of the community of his choosing.

Concentrating these super powers with minimal restrictions, little oversight, expanding those powers into more municipalities, and doing so where the use of those powers can change on a whim, should not be done. Mayoral super powers is a bad idea for all parties involved.

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