By Carlton Joseph
Toronto City Council begins the new term with Mayor John Tory in a position to wield significant power because of the “strong mayor” legislation introduced by Premier Doug Ford. Initially, the new legislation was proposed for Toronto and Ottawa, because they were in dire need of, and ready to accommodate, affordable housing development. The legislation is supposed to fast track the construction of affordable housing by eliminating development restrictions, reducing development costs and eliminating or reducing permit delays. The legislation was presented as a means of providing “additional governance tools and increased powers to align municipal decision-making with provincial priorities.” Ford recently announced that the “strong mayor” powers would likely be extended to other municipalities across Ontario.
The legislation presents a significant shift from the traditional “weak mayor” system form of local governance across all jurisdictions in Canada, therefore one must consider why he is proposing this seismic shift in the decision-making process. It appears that Premier Ford is using Ontario as a test case for the Progressive Conservative Party to implement conservative programs, even if the majority does not agree with the programs. The “Camera” has always found it interesting that conservatives always use words that imply that the policies they are implementing are right for the country even when they are wrong. The current “weak mayor vs strong mayor,” nomenclature, is such an instance. On the surface one would think that the strong mayor would obviously be better for the province, we encourage readers to examine the legislation and then decide if you agree or disagree.
In the legislation, the mayor is empowered to appoint a Chief Administrative Officer; hire and fire department heads and create or reorganize departments; grants the mayor the authority to prepare and present the budget to the city council for consideration; or propose amendments, his veto must be overturned by two-thirds of the council; the power to determine the organizational structure of the municipalities, including the power to hire, terminate or exercise other prescribed employment powers with respect to the heads of any division; appoint the chairs and vice-chairs of local boards and committees, and to establish; dissolve and assign functions to committees. Most importantly, he has immunity for any decision made or power exercised granted under the legislation, and cannot be quashed or judicially reviewed for unreasonableness, if made legally and in “good faith.” This is autocracy masquerading as democracy.
In the current “weak mayor” system the mayor is a member of the council with one vote, he/she must work with other members to arrive at consensus. In the “strong mayor” system the mayor has executive authority to make unilateral decisions and is not required to get the support of the majority of the members. In essence, the mayor is now “God” with the power to implement whatever, regardless of the consequences to the province or its citizens.
This strong mayor system might get things done expeditiously, but it might be all the wrong things. Worst, it gives greater scope for corruption, undermines the deliberations of the majority, and forces the majority to conform to the views of the minority. This usually leads to chaos and a dysfunctional government.
Democracy cannot survive if the mayor only needs one-third of the city councillors to push through his agenda, this is sanctioned oligarchy, and if allowed to flourish in this test case which is to advance provincial priority in affordable housing, will be implemented later to push through conservative agendas in education, transport or whatever areas of government they believe the opposition party might not support.
Canadians in general and Torontonians in particular should reject the additional set of powers, that have been added since the initial legislation that was passed in September. Toronto’s mayor John Tory has defended his request to the province for expanded powers and claims that he plans to make “very limited” use of the measure, and it won’t change his fundamental approach with the council, and that the people trust him to exercise all the authorities he has in a responsible manner. If this is true, why does he need expanded powers that negate the votes of the majority of councillors? Also, mayors of other large cities have expressed interest in such expanded powers. Are Canadians to believe that these mayors want more power so that they can work with councillors toward solutions that would benefit the majority of its citizens? The old saying that “absolute power corrupts absolutely” is appropriate to this situation.
Finally, the mayor has been granted dictatorial powers, rather than a simple majority vote, he needs one-third of the council to pursue his agenda, and two-thirds of the council to override his veto, he only has to bribe, cajole, or coerce one person to get his way, since the eight people that joined him will not later oppose him. The strong mayor’s legislation, in its latest evolution is not in the best interest of the province or the country, and is a detriment to democracy.