Toronto activists, councillors seek special meeting to discuss strong mayor powers
Toronto City Hall is seen in this undated photo. (Craig Wadman/CTV News)
Published Friday, December 2, 2022 4:42PM EST
Civic activists and at least one city councillor are calling for a special meeting to discuss provincial legislation that gives the mayor even stronger powers.
A petition launched by Progress Toronto, a not-for-profit organization advocating for progressive change in the city, requesting an “urgent meeting” has garnered nearly 1,000 signatures.
“Meeting on December 14 is too late and does not allow for genuine input from residents or council members,” the petition reads. “I urge you to use the power you have to oppose this Bill, help to protect our local democracy, and to ensure there is a City Council meeting on this before it is too late.”
The legislation—known as Bill 39—gives the mayors of Toronto and Ottawa the power to propose and amend bylaws related to provincial priorities with a council vote of just more than one-third of its members.
This means the mayor would not need a majority vote to push their agenda forward. In Toronto, that would mean a bylaw could pass with just nine out of 25 votes.
Under the current strong mayor rules, if council wants to override the mayor’s decision, it needs more than two-thirds support.
In a message on social media, Parkdale-High Park Counc. Gord Perks calls on Toronto Mayor John Tory—who was the person who asked the Doug Ford government for more powers—to hold a special meeting to discuss the bill.
“Torontonians are continuing to raise their voice in opposition both to the specifics of the bill and the undemocratic move to bring it forward without consultation,” Perks wrote. “Everyone across our city should have the right to have their voices heard through their democratic local government.”
Toronto’s next city council meeting is scheduled for Dec. 14.
The bill will likely be passed next week, as Members of Provincial Parliament will be on recess after Dec. 8.
Councillors and advocates have been vocal about their disapproval of the legislation, with multiple officials submitting statements to the province’s Standing Committee on Heritage, Infrastructure and Cultural Policy earlier this week.
Alejandra Bravo, the councillor for the ward of Davenport, spoke to the committee on Thursday on their behalf.
“This bill invalidates the will of voters in my ward and across Toronto just weeks after a municipal election, during which the mayor who asked for these powers and the premier who agreed to grant them never ever mentioned their secret intention to change the city's governance,” she said.
“It reduces the democratically elected city council to a tool for an agenda of another government.”
Statements were read by councillors Ausma Malik, Amber Morley, Jamaal Myers and Lily Cheng.
“We have a housing affordability crisis in Toronto and I welcome the urgency to address it from all levels. However, Premier Ford's Bill 39 isn't about housing. It's a clear attack on local democracy,” Malik’s statement said.
“This type of unprecedented minority rule will break trust among leaders and with the public,” Cheng added.
Bill 39 adds on to strong mayor powers already granted to the mayors of Ottawa and Toronto are an addition to the strong mayor powers. In September, the government passed legislation giving them the ability to control the city’s budget, and the capability to hire and fire department heads and appointment chairs for council committees.
Tory made his first strong mayor power hire on Friday, appointing Paul Johnson to be the new city manager.
“Paul Johnson is a leader with a proven track record of commitment to serving our communities, creating efficiencies and budgeting effectively, all while inspiring teams,” Tory said in a statement. “I know he will make a great city manager for Toronto.”
His use of the strong mayor powers has already caused criticism, with Counc. Josh Matlow saying the appointment removes checks and balances often conducted during a city council discussion.