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Ontario passes bill extending strong mayor powers for Toronto and Ottawa


Ontario government has passed a bill that will give the mayors of two major cities the ability to pass certain bylaws with support from just over a third of council, despite reservations made by the majority of Toronto’s elected representatives.

Bill 39, also known as the Better Municipal Governance Act, builds on strong mayor powers already given to Ottawa and Toronto.

Under the new legislation, the mayor of both of these cities will be given the ability to propose and amend bylaws related to provincial priorities with a vote of more than one-third of council. This would mean nine out of 25 councillors would need to support the mayor’s agenda.

Usually, in order to pass anything in city council, a majority vote is required.

The government has defined a provincial priority broadly as being anything that relates to the building of housing, including construction, and maintenance of related infrastructure such as transit and roads.

The Progressive Conservative government first tabled Bill 39 in mid-November, touting it as yet another tool to help get 1.5 million homes built in the next 10 years. Since then, opposition parties and city councillors have been vocal with their criticism, calling the legislation an affront to the democratic process.

The majority of Toronto’s city council wrote a letter earlier this week to the premier and minister of municipal affairs, asking them to reconsider the bill until further consultation could take place. However, Premier Doug Ford defended the bill when speaking to reporters Wednesday, saying it was not “undemocratic” as others claimed.

The premier claimed the dissenting councillors just want to “hold on to their power.”

“At the end of the day, it's the mayor that’s standing in front of the microphone like I do, answering all the tough questions, being held accountable. He's responsible for running the city and for him to have one vote. That's just not acceptable.”

Speaking outside the Legislature on Thursday, House Leader Paul Calandra said the bill provides “hope and opportunity” to those wanting to own a home.

“Today this legislature made huge strides in helping achieve that so many people and I'm very proud,” he said.

Ontario’s Official Opposition argues that Bill 39 has nothing to do with building housing.

“If this government actually wanted to solve the housing crisis, it would commit to building more affordable homes for Ontarians, bringing in stronger rent control measures, building missing middle homes in existing neighbourhoods and clamping down on speculation,” interim Ontario NDP Leader Peter Tabuns said in a statement.

"Ontarians value democracy, and people are rightly concerned about Doug Ford's latest ploy to wrest power from local, democratically elected decision-makers, as he is giving himself permission to do with the just-passed Bill 39.”

Toronto Mayor John Tory, who has admitted to asking for the more powers, says while he supports the legislation, he will strive to arrive at a consensus with council.

Tory has already shown that he is unafraid of using the strong mayor powers. Earlier this month, he used the new authority granted to him in September to hire and fire department heads by appointing Paul Johnson as the new city manager.

Ottawa’s mayor has said he does not intend on using the powers.

In addition to giving mayors stronger powers, Bill 39 would give the province the authority to appoint regional heads of council for certain municipalities. It also amends the Duffins Rouge Agricultural Preserve Act in order to open up more Greenbelt land and “assist in removing barriers to building much-needed housing in Pickering.” Top Stories

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