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Ford Government Wants to Bring Strong Mayor Powers to More Cities

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The government of Ontario announced their intention to extend strong mayor powers to more municipalities, their latest move to address the province’s housing supply crisis.

Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark tabled legislation on Wednesday afternoon, entitled the Better Municipal Governance Act, that would allow the province to appoint facilitators in Durham, Halton, Niagara, Peel, Waterloo, and York to assess the best ways to extend strong mayor powers to these municipalities.

The news comes just one day after strong mayor powers for the cities of Toronto and Ottawa took effect, thanks to a bill passed by the province in September. The legislation, dubbed the Strong Mayors, Building Homes Act, gives mayors the authority to veto council decisions, prepare the budget, and appoint and remove high-ranking staff members such as the city manager. The intention, the province has said, is to cut red tape and allow developments to be approved more quickly.

Wednesday’s proposed legislation would offer additional powers to the mayors of Toronto and Ottawa, enabling them to propose municipal by-laws that could be passed by council without a majority. To pass, these by-laws would only need more than one-third of council members to vote in favour. The Lieutenant Governor in Council would prescribe which provincial priorities the new by-law powers could be used for, and Clark would be granted authority to “establish rules related to the by-law power.”

“These bold actions are necessary if our government is to keep its commitment to Ontarians and remove the obstacles standing in the way of much-needed housing,” Clark said. “That’s why we are again taking decisive action to provide municipal leaders the tools they need to plan for future population growth and get more homes built faster.”

Initial strong mayor powers were met with mixed reviews, with Toronto Mayor John Tory expressing his intention to use the powers to get homes built, and former Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson saying he does not see a need for such legislation. In October, five former Toronto mayors spoke out against the powers, calling them a threat to local democracy.

The new legislation would also allow Clark to appoint regional heads of council for Niagara, Peel, and York. In a backgrounder, the Province stated that they intend to reappoint existing chairs Jim Bradley in Niagara, Nando Iannicca in Peel, and Wayne Emerson in York.

The bill also targets building on protected farmland and calls for the repeal of the Duffins Rouge Agricultural Preserve Act — legislation passed in 2005 to preserve the land between the Greenbelt and the Seaton development land for agricultural purposes. The government says the repeal will allow them “to assist in removing barriers to building much-needed housing in Pickering (Durham Region) as part of broader proposed amendments to the Greenbelt,” the Province says.

This is a move that’s received opposition from the Ontario Farmland Trust who, just last week, said in a news release that these lands are essential to farming in Ontario, containing specialty crop areas with unique microclimates that “cannot be replicated elsewhere.”

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