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Strong mayor powers to be expanded to more Ontario cities, Ford says

Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark introduced the legislation last week that would give the mayors of Ontario's two largest cities veto powers over bylaws that conflict with provincial priorities, such as building housing
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Ontario Premier Doug Ford jokes about swallowing a bee before speaking to the Association of Municipalities Ontario conference, Monday, August 15, 2022 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Ontario Premier Doug Ford said Monday he's planning to expand so-called strong mayor powers to municipalities other than Toronto and Ottawa as a way to get more housing built.

Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark introduced the legislation last week that would give the mayors of Ontario's two largest cities veto powers over bylaws that conflict with provincial priorities, such as building housing.

Speaking at the Association of Municipalities Ontario annual conference in Ottawa, Ford said the legislation will provide those mayors with additional tools to advance those provincial priorities.

"Building more homes is at the top of the list," he said. "In the coming months, we’ll have more information on how these tools will be expanded to other municipalities so more municipal leaders like yourselves can help build Ontario."

The legislation tabled last week would allow the mayors to override council approval of a bylaw, such as a zoning bylaw, that would hamper a set of provincial priorities that will be set out later in regulations.

Examples of priorities that government officials gave include the goal of building 1.5 million homes in 10 years and building critical infrastructure.

A council could override the mayor's veto with a two-thirds majority vote.

The legislation would also give the mayors the responsibility for preparing and tabling their city's budget, instead of council, appointing a chief administrative officer, and hiring and firing department heads, except for statutory appointments such as an auditor general, police chief or fire chief.

Toronto Mayor John Tory supports the idea, though the current, outgoing mayor of Ottawa doesn't, and neither do two contenders to replace him.

The mayors of other large cities have expressed interest in such powers.

A report released Monday by the Smart Prosperity Institute, a University of Ottawa-based think tank, found that the housing needs of the Peel Region in the next 10 years will be higher than all other areas.

It said that Peel, which is comprised of Mississauga, Brampton and Caledon, will need 277,000 housing units, with Toronto needing 259,000, and York Region needing 180,100.

York Region includes Vaughan, Richmond Hill, Aurora, Newmarket, East Gwillimbury, Georgina, King and Whitchurch-Stouffville. The report concluded that Ontario will indeed need 1.5 million more homes over the next 10 years - a target suggested by a government-appointed task force earlier this year and adopted by Ford.

Interim NDP Leader Peter Tabuns, when speaking at the AMO conference, criticized the strong mayor proposal.

"When it comes to housing and other priorities, it misses the target by a country mile," he said. "It won’t build a single home. It won’t solve the infrastructure deficit you all are facing. It won’t fund your transit systems and it won’t fund your public health units."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 15, 2022.

Allison Jones, The Canadian Press