Ontario must consult public, groups before expanding ‘strong mayor’ powers: AMO

By Paola Loriggio

A group representing Ontario municipalities says the province must conduct broad consultations as it considers expanding so-called “strong mayor” powers to communities other than Toronto and Ottawa.

The Association of Municipalities of Ontario told a legislative committee Monday the government should consult the public as well as professional and municipal political organizations on various issues related to extending those powers, including the criteria to select municipalities.

AMO’s executive director, Brian Rosborough, told the committee the group wasn’t consulted on the legislation but was briefed on the details “immediately before” the bill was introduced earlier this month.

The organization’s board met to discuss the bill, though it has not had the opportunity to canvass its members or review research on the topic, Rosborough said.

“There were people on the board who think it’s a good idea, others that had reservations, others that were truly open-minded … but real consensus that, as it’s expanded, consultation should occur,” he said.

The bill would give the mayors of Toronto and Ottawa veto powers over bylaws that conflict with provincial priorities, such as building housing. A council could override the mayor’s veto with a two-thirds majority vote.

The proposed legislation would also give the mayors the responsibility for preparing and tabling their city’s budget, instead of council, appointing a chief administrative officer, and hiring and firing department heads, except for statutory appointments such as an auditor general, police chief or fire chief.

Premier Doug Ford first mentioned he planned to present such legislation in late July, and said at the time that he aimed to have it in place before the Oct. 24 municipal election. He has also said those powers will eventually be extended to mayors in some other municipalities.

A spokesperson for Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark said in a statement that his office did extensive consultations with municipalities, experts, and people across Ontario at the beginning of this year. They say they’re also engaging with municipalities through the Housing Supply Action Plan Implementation Team, which will provide advice on market housing initiatives.

The minister has previously denied the absence of consultation on the bill.

Appearing before the same legislative committee last week, Clark said Ford has “been on record many, many times indicating … that mayors deserve stronger powers,” including at least one instance that occurred before Ford became premier in 2018.

Clark also said the province has held multiple consultations on issues related to housing.

“We’re consulting on multigenerational communities. We’re consulting on a rural housing — consultations ‘R’ us. We continuously ask Ontarians and ask our partners,” he said.

“The day that we put forward this bill, I emailed every head of council in the province asking for their feedback on this proposal.”

Other stakeholders also weighed in on the bill before the committee Monday, including the Ontario Home Builders’ Association and the Residential Construction Council of Ontario.