Latest NewsLocalThings to do

COLUMN: ‘Strong mayors’ legislation an unneeded flex – MidlandToday

Mayors receiving new powers should instead learn how to build consensus, not be given ability to veto council decisions, writer says

I have nothing against strong Ontario mayors, just not this strong.

Last week, the province gave so-called ‘strong mayor’ powers to Toronto and Ottawa.

This allows the leaders of these city governments power to veto council decisions deemed — by the mayor, we suppose — to hamper the creation of new homes, along with allowing them to propose housing-related bylaws and pass them with the support of one-third of councillors.

There are also new powers which allow these two mayors to prepare and table the city’s budget, as well as hiring and firing department heads.

First, a municipal mayor should not be able to veto any council decision. Mayors have one vote on council, just like everyone else.

The mayors that don’t get their way should figure out how to get consensus, how to convince enough other council members to vote their way, whether it’s about housing or road reconstruction or property taxes.

Mayors who can’t do this should probably come to the realization that their idea isn’t that good.

And one-third support passes a housing-related bylaw? Whatever happened to majority rules, even by just one vote?

Everyone else on council was also elected by the people, voters all.

The city budget is the most important decision a local council makes, as it sets both service levels and property taxes.

Why would the mayor alone be allowed to prepare and table a budget? What about whatever the other councillors want in the budget? Or don’t want? 

Ditto for hiring and firing department heads. This needs to be a council decision. 

Now I know what Barrie readers are thinking: These strong mayors are only for Toronto and Ottawa.

True enough now, but things change. Have you ever heard that what’s good for Toronto is also good for the rest of Ontario?

And let us remember that Premier Doug Ford and his Progressive Conservative government can do just about anything they want during the next almost four years.

Ontario voters, or at least those who bothered to vote, gave Ford and Co. a majority government last June. (Voter turnout was 43 per cent of those eligible.)

So if the premier wants to extend the strong-mayor powers to all Ontario councils this week, he can do it and any opposition will be, at best, tolerated, certainly not heeded.

Much of this, of course, is rooted in Ford’s misguided perception that most local councils and their citizens are opposed to every new residential development that isn’t single-family homes on large lots. No six-plexes, no stacked townhouses, certainly no highrises or, forbid, towers. Also that the NIMBY (not in my back yard) crowd has had its way for far too long, and it’s time to turn the housing tables on them.

Oh, and that most municipal councillors think the same way, because of their need to do what the people who elected them desire, instead of what a developer wants to do to maximize profits.

Ford has also inflicted housing laws upon Ontarians and their municipal councils — Bills 109 and 23 — that take much of the authority away from the locals, to get housing built faster, and essentially make these cities, towns, etc., pick up the tab.

It’s all part of the Conservative master plan to build 1.5 million housing units during the next decade, which is far beyond the mandate voters gave Ford in the last provincial election — but that doesn’t seem to matter with political promises … which hasn’t changed.

So what to do, beyond hope that groundswell of opposition to all of this will convince Ford to backslide fearlessly on his plans for strong mayors and more residential development?

Well, tell your mayor how you feel about all the political strength he or she may be handed and ask where they stand on using it.

Have a chat with your councillor about neighbourhoods, how they needed to be protected and not changed beyond recognition by planning consultants who consistently rhyme off stats about units per hectare.

Tell your MPP that what’s good for Toronto (and Ottawa) isn’t always good for the rest of Ontario.

And if you see Premier Ford, ask him who (figuratively) died and made him king?

Bob Bruton covers city hall for BarrieToday. He tires of this Ontario government telling municipalities how their communities will look now and into the future.