Ontario expanding 'strong mayor' powers to 26 more cities


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Oct 26, 2009
Ontario expanding 'strong mayor' powers to 26 more cities
Steve Clark wouldn't say if all 26 mayors actually want to use the strong mayor powers

Author of the article:Canadian Press
Canadian Press
Published Jun 16, 2023 • Last updated 1 day ago • 4 minute read

Ontario is conferring so-called strong mayor powers — which critics have decried as undemocratic — upon 26 more cities in the name of building more housing.

Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark said the new powers for the large and fast-growing municipalities will ensure they can deliver on provincially assigned housing commitments as the Progressive Conservative government works toward a goal of building 1.5 million homes in 10 years.

“While we’re making progress, there still is much more work for us to do,” he said Friday at a news conference.

“It’s a joint effort that takes all levels of government including our municipal partners. Today’s announcement is about empowering municipal leaders to give them the tools to get the job done.”

Projections in Ontario’s spring budget for housing starts showed the target of 1.5 million homes slipping further out of reach with each passing year. Nearly 100,000 homes were built in the province in 2022, but the forecast shows the number of housing starts in the next few years struggling to crack 80,000 annually, projections that were even lower than in last year’s budget.

The strong mayor powers include allowing mayors to propose housing-related bylaws and pass them with the support of one-third of councillors, as well as override council approval of bylaws, such as a zoning bylaw, that would stymie the creation of more homes.

Strong mayors also have responsibility for preparing and tabling their city’s budget, instead of council, and hiring and firing department heads.

The heads of the 26 cities, including Mississauga — where Mayor Bonnie Crombie recently announced she’s running to become leader of the Ontario Liberal Party — as well as Waterloo, Niagara Falls and Windsor, are set to get the new powers as of July 1.

Some mayors, such as in Barrie, Ajax and Brampton, expressed thanks for the announcement.

“Premier (Doug) Ford has extensive experience at the municipal level and has seen first hand how the municipal powers for the mayor were inconsistent with implementing the agenda they were elected on,” Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown wrote in a statement.

“I am grateful the premier has made it easier to implement our respective agendas.”

Crombie said she expects the powers will be used in Mississauga “sparingly and with a degree of caution.”

However, some other mayors said they don’t have any plans to use the powers.

“I don’t foresee a need to use these powers,” St. Catharines Mayor Mat Siscoe said in an interview.

Oshawa Mayor Dan Carter said he wants to respect the democratic process.

“It will be an extraordinary moment when and if I ever have to use the powers as strong mayor,” he said in an interview.

Kitchener Mayor Berry Vrbanovic said he would look at the specifics, but his city’s council has been working well together.

“In 8.5 years as mayor I would be hard-pressed to think of a time when I ever would have used this particular tool because my approach has been, and my council’s approach has been, to work collaboratively,” he said in an interview.

Kingston Mayor Bryan Paterson wrote in a statement that he and his council are committed to solving the housing crisis through collaboration.

“Anyone who has worked with me knows I am not going to all of a sudden start wielding this tool, but I am also not going to rule it out if there were situations in the future that may require considering it,” he said.

The NDP said the strong mayor expansion is undemocratic.

“The Conservatives are weakening local government and the ability of local elected officials to serve their residents,” municipal affairs critic Jeff Burch wrote in a statement.

Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner said strong local governments are built on a diversity of viewpoints.

“Concentrating power in the mayor’s office and ushering in minority rule will not solve the housing crisis,” he wrote in a statement.

Clark has already given strong mayor powers to Ottawa and Toronto, but Ottawa’s mayor has said he doesn’t want them, and several leading candidates in Toronto’s mayoral byelection have said they won’t use them.

The 26 municipalities plus Toronto and Ottawa were all assigned 2031 housing targets — if all of those units are built they will represent more than 1.2 million of the 1.5 million homes target.

Newmarket was the only municipality that was given a target but refused to commit to it, and it was left off the list of new strong mayors.

“I’m OK with it, frankly,” said Mayor John Taylor. “It would be disingenuous of me to pretend I’m really upset because the fact is I wouldn’t use strong mayor powers.”

Taylor said he couldn’t commit to the province’s target of 12,000 new homes for his municipality because Newmarket doesn’t currently have the sewage capacity to serve more than a couple thousand more homes.

Newmarket has been trying to get a new wastewater treatment facility in order to facilitate growth, but it has been met with provincial delays, Taylor said.

“I’m not trying to be difficult, but the matter of the fact is it’s an engineering impossibility for us to meet that (12,000) number,” he said.

A spokesperson for Clark said the government implemented the Upper York Sewage Solution to solve the issue, but Taylor said that will still take a number of years to be of use. He and the province are in discussions about a modified housing target.

Clark also said he is eyeing strong mayor powers for Chatham-Kent, Greater Sudbury and Thunder Bay.