The new changes to legislation has city councillors asking why?
Yesterday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford passed legislation that will give the mayors of Toronto and Ottawa the option to veto city council motions as part of the expanded authorities granted to them through the province’s plan to introduce “Strong Mayor” powers in those cities.
“Strong Mayor” is a U.S.-style system that is typically marked by the centralization of executive power with the Mayor, who has control over department head appointments, oversees budgets, and is sometimes granted veto power. The Mayor is given total administrative authority and a wide range of political independence, with the power to appoint and dismiss department heads without approval from the council or the public.
Under the current municipal system in Ontario, the Mayor is given one vote on the council and needs a majority of councillors to support any motions, reports, or projects the Mayor wants to be approved. With the new legislation, the role of the individual municipal councillors would be diminished because of the veto power the Mayor now possesses. This legislation was passed quickly because of the issue of housing affordability.
“I understand this is something that the province is exploring in order to get more homes built as quickly as possible,” Toronto Mayor John Tory’s said in his statement. “As Mayor, I am absolutely determined to get more housing built – no matter what powers I have as Mayor.”
“At the end of the day, no matter what, my job remains the same, to work with City Council and every elected official that wants to work with me to get things done for the people of Toronto.”
While details are still being worked out, it is likely that two-thirds of councillors would be able to overrule a mayoral veto.
During Ontario’s summer election campaign, Ford did not mention bringing in legislation to provide more powers to the Mayorial system because it just adds a new layer of complexity to the Mayor’s race in the fall election. Despite that, Ford is changing his tune as he promises to introduce a robust Mayorial system in both Toronto and Ottawa before the October municipal elections.
Members of the city council are unhappy about this situation as it defies the democracy system in place and could potentially take away the people’s voice and cause disruption in the chambers. Parkdale Councilor Gord Perks spoke about needing more information about Ford’s plan as well as putting said plan up for debates during this council’s final sitting before the October election.
Perks also seconded a motion from Toronto-St. Paul’s councillor Josh Matlow would see the council ask the province not to pass any legislation to expand the existing powers of the Mayor’s office. “Such a move would erode democracy by stifling advocacy on the most important issues affecting Torontonians,” the motion reads.
“Our city’s governance structure should be designed for not only what we aspire our system to be, but it must also take into account what guard rails are necessary to protect a healthy local democracy,” it continues.
“In Toronto’s case, we don’t need to look very far back in our own history to understand how important the ability to hold the Mayor’s power to account is. In fact, it was absolutely necessary.”
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