Premier Doug Ford stunned many Ontarians when he introduced his intention to grant Toronto and Ottawa so-called “sturdy mayor” powers forward of municipal elections on Oct. 24.
The brand new mayoral authorities these cities gained with the passage of the Robust Mayors, Constructing Houses Act in September promise to shake up the best way issues are accomplished in Ontario’s two largest cities when the subsequent council time period begins on Nov. 15.
“This can be a elementary shift within the democratic course of on the native authorities stage,” mentioned John Mascarin, a municipal lawyer at Aird & Berlis in Toronto.
So, what precisely are these new powers? And the way will they work?
What’s a ‘sturdy mayor’?
At present, Ontario municipalities use a “weak mayor” system the place most decision-making energy rests with native councils.
Beneath this type of authorities, metropolis administration studies to council and councillors make choices by majority vote. The pinnacle of council — be it a mayor, reeve, warden or regional chair — has just one vote and little government authority.
Merely put: the mayor’s vote is value no extra than a councillor’s.
“There must be a sequence of compromises and concessions. A mayor is basically the consensus builder,” mentioned Mascarin.
In contrast, in some main U.S. cities, together with New York and Chicago, extra energy is concentrated within the mayor’s workplace.
Robust-city mayors usually oversee the day-to-day operations of town authorities, can veto council choices, appoint and take away high-level workers members, put together the funds and implement ordinances. Particular powers fluctuate from metropolis to metropolis.
“‘Robust mayors’ can use their further government powers to work round council or override it with out having to make use of the smooth energy of persuasion,” wrote Zack Taylor, affiliate professor of political science and public administration at Western College in London, Ont., in an e mail.
What new powers do the mayors of Toronto and Ottawa have?
The mayors of Toronto and Ottawa will be capable to unilaterally direct metropolis workers to develop coverage proposals for council to think about, draft and desk their metropolis’s annual funds, create or re-organize municipal departments and select the chairs of all committees and boards — together with police and well being.
They might additionally rent and fireplace town supervisor and division heads. Sure appointments, such because the auditor common, police chief and medical officer of well being, aren’t lined by the brand new legislation.
A lot of the new mayoral powers presently reside with councils, their committees or with skilled workers inside municipal bureaucracies.
However essentially the most vital new authority is the power to override some council choices.
Whereas the mayors will proceed to have just one vote on common council enterprise, the laws permits them to veto bylaws permitted by council that they imagine battle with provincial priorities.
The record of priorities hasn’t been specified but, however examples that provincial officers have used embrace establishing 1.5 million properties in 10 years and constructing important infrastructure.
“What the province is doing … is to supply centralized government powers to the mayors of the 2 municipalities,” mentioned Mascarin.
All through his two phrases, Toronto Mayor John Tory had no downside controlling the steadiness of energy on council.
He was on the successful facet of serious votes 97.99 per cent of the time throughout the 2018-2022 council time period, in response to a scorecard stored by Matt Elliott, a columnist and creator of the Metropolis Corridor Watcher publication.
“Mayors are very not often on the dropping facet of votes as a result of they do not let ‘dropping’ points make it to the ground within the first place,” wrote Taylor.
“The good exception, in fact, was throughout Rob Ford’s mayoralty, when he grew to become remoted on council and council discovered how you can govern with out him.”
With that mentioned, Tory did undergo a uncommon coverage loss in 2021 on the difficulty of legalizing rooming homes when he deferred a council vote moderately than lose it as a result of there wasn’t majority assist.
The brand new powers could possibly be used to interrupt such logjams if the mayor could make the case that doing so advances provincial priorities, mentioned Karen Chapple, director of the varsity of cities on the College of Toronto.
“If [council] had denied it, then he might have overridden it with a veto,” Chapple mentioned.
Councillors might battle again and override a mayor’s veto with a two-thirds majority vote.
Why are these powers needed?
When he launched the laws in August, Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark mentioned the powers have been being given to cities in most pressing want of recent housing.
“Our authorities must assist environment friendly native decision-making to hurry up improvement timelines,” Clark mentioned on the time.
“We’re relying on municipalities to chop pink tape and get housing constructed quicker.”
In a report earlier this 12 months, a government-commissioned housing job power recognized the municipal approval course of as one of many main obstacles to getting sufficient housing constructed to satisfy demand, arguing municipalities have largely failed to satisfy provincially-mandated timelines for making choices on developments.
Tory, who’s working for a 3rd time period, welcomed the brand new powers. He mentioned they might assist him velocity up the event approval course of at metropolis corridor if he’s re-elected, including he hopes he would use them not often.
Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson, who just isn’t in search of re-election, mentioned his metropolis would not want the powers, nor did he ask for them. In August, Ottawa’s council voted to precise its opposition to the laws.
How will the new powers work?
It is unclear how typically these powers can be used or to what extent they will assist the mayors of Toronto and Ottawa get extra housing constructed.
For one factor, the Toronto mayor’s position as chair of the chief committee already offers that individual extra affect than the typical councillor. The committee’s members are largely hand-picked by the mayor and it shapes main coverage objects forward of the complete council.
As nicely, Toronto council already delegates some powers lined by the brand new legislation to the mayor, together with appointing committee chairs and including new objects to the council agenda.
Taylor mentioned the brand new powers fall wanting the U.S.-style sturdy mayor system, notably as a result of veto energy is tied to the provincial authorities’s pursuits.
“[That] dramatically limits the scope of how these powers can be utilized,” he wrote. “Every thing hinges on how broadly the province defines its priorities.”
Sabine Matheson, a principal at consulting agency StrategyCorp, mentioned the veto energy might empower mayors to reverse council choices to dam housing initiatives that, of their view, ought to have been permitted below provincial coverage. Doing so would assist keep away from prolonged appeals to the Ontario Land Tribunal that usually go the developer’s means anyway, Matheson mentioned.
Management over the funds might additionally assist the mayor guarantee there’s sufficient funding and staffing to assist their metropolis’s housing objectives, Matheson mentioned.
“It might be unrealistic to assume that one change to the ability of mayors might actually, with a magic wand, change every thing,” Matheson mentioned.
“However it may possibly change some issues, so I’d simply see this as being like one instrument in a toolbox.”
Chapple mentioned the powers would are available most useful for a mayor who would not have the complete assist of council, for instance, if a progressive mayoral candidate like Gil Penalosa is elected alongside a conservative-leaning council.
“An ideologically far proper or ideologically far left politician might might get into disagreements with the council after which use these powers to to get their means,” she mentioned.
What about different Ontario municipalities?
The legislation permits the province to broaden the brand new powers to different Ontario municipalities by regulation.
Ford has mentioned he plans to do exactly that.
“Within the coming months, we’ll have extra info on how these instruments can be expanded to different municipalities so extra municipal leaders like yourselves might help construct Ontario,” he mentioned at a convention in August.
The Affiliation of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) has referred to as on the province to seek the advice of the general public in addition to skilled and municipal political organizations on the difficulty.
When the invoice was being thought of, the AMO raised issues in regards to the permitting mayors to regulate the hiring of senior municipal workers and re-structure the paperwork, which it mentioned “are at odds with established good practices” of public sector governance.