The mayors of Toronto and Ottawa will be granted sweeping new powers which will give them sole responsibility for preparing the municipal budget for council approval as well the ability to hire and fire department heads as they see fit and veto some decisions made by councillors.
The new legislation, titled the ‘Strong Mayors, Building Homes Act,” was formally tabled at Queen’s Park on Wednesday afternoon.
The proposed changes outlined in the legislation would allow the mayors of Toronto and Ottawa to override council approval of a bylaw when they are of the opinion that using the veto “would further a provincial priority.”
However, they would have to override the bylaw as a whole and would not have the ability to choose which specific aspects or amendments to block.
There is also nothing in the legislation that would allow the empowered mayors to push through bylaws, without council approval.
For a full list of the proposed changes follow this link
The Ford government has not provided a list of items which might qualify as an issue of “provincial priority” at this point, however a ministry official speaking on background during a technical briefing said that there will be “a regulation making power” contained in the legislation which will allow the government to “prescribe what those provincial priorities” are.
The official said that the government’s plan to build 1.5 million homes over the next decade would likely qualify as a provincial priority, as would the need for “critical infrastructure around roads transit and things of that nature.”
However, ministry officials say that the way the legislation is written will effectively mean that it will be up to the mayor to determine whether the bylaw he or she is overruling does in fact interfere with a designated provincial priority.
That veto could then only be overruled by a two-thirds vote at city council, which would have to take place within 21 days of it being used.
Speaking with reporters at Queen’s Park, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark said that the override process will serve as a “check and balance” on the newly enhanced powers being given to the mayors of Ontario’s two largest cities.
“There still is a role for council, there is a big role for council and I don't think this changes that for the citizens of either of those two cities,” he said.
Authority to hire and fire department heads
The tabling of the legislation comes about three weeks after news first surfaced that the Ford government was considering handing U.S.-style strong mayor powers to the chief magistrates of Toronto and Ottawa.
In addition to the veto power, the legislation also provides a suite of other new and enhanced powers to the mayors of Ontario’s two largest cities.
One of the major changes would see the responsibility for preparing budgets shifted from city council as a whole to the mayor’s office.
City council would still have to approve the budget and could pass amendments, though the mayor would have the option of using a separate veto power to override those amendments.
The changes would also give the mayor sole authority to appoint a Chief Administrative Officer, hire and fire department heads and create or reorganize departments.
The ministry says that those powers would, however, not apply to statutory appointments, such as the Chief of Police or the Medical Officer of Health.
“Because of the large amount of growth we expect in our two largest cities we have to ensure that they have the tools to do the job,” Clark said. “We need to move forward.”
The Ford government did not make any mention of its plan to enhance the powers afforded to the mayors of Toronto and Ottawa during the recent provincial election, though Clark contended that his government “ran on a plan to build 1.5 million homes” and these changes are part of making that happen.
Speaking with CP24 earlier on Wednesday before details of the legislation were revealed, Toronto Mayor John Tory said that even with enhanced powers his approach to being mayor “will not change” if re-elected in October.
“From my standpoint this is not going to change the way I do my job. My job is to work with every single member of city council that wants to work with me and continue to do that but at the end of the way as well I want to find as many ways as possible to get things done faster, to get more housing built faster and to make sure the transit plan we agreed upon as governments actually gets built,” he said.
The proposed legislation, if approved, would take effect at the beginning of the next term of council on Nov. 15.
Premier Doug Ford has previously said that he is open to extending the enhanced powers to the mayors of other large cities, however it will only apply to Toronto and Ottawa for the time being.