The Ontario government is expanding strong mayor powers to the Mayors of 26 large and fast-growing municipalities that have committed to a housing pledge as part of the province’s work to build 1.5 million homes by 2031.
Steve Clark, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, made the announcement during the meeting of the Ontario Big City Mayors on Friday, June 16, 2023.
Strong mayor powers for Toronto and Ottawa took effect in the fall of 2022 and will be expanded to mayors in the 26 additional municipalities, including Brantford, on July 1, 2023.
“Municipalities are critical partners for our government as we help communities get shovels in the ground faster and work to build more homes,” said Minister Clark. “By adopting ambitious and absolutely necessary housing pledges, these 26 municipalities have demonstrated they understand the importance of that target, and we are ensuring they have the tools they need to succeed. We welcome housing pledges from other municipalities to help reach our goal of 1.5 million homes by 2031.”
Strong mayor powers offer tools to help heads of council cut red tape and speed up the delivery of key shared municipal-provincial priorities such as housing, transit and infrastructure in their municipalities. These enhanced powers will also bring increased accountability for local leaders, while checks and balances maintain the important oversight role of councillors. For example, council may override the mayor’s veto of by-laws or budget amendments with a two-thirds majority vote.
Strong mayor powers and duties include:
- Choosing to appoint the municipality’s chief administrative officer
- Hiring certain municipal department heads, and establishing and re-organizing departments
- Creating committees of council, assigning their functions and appointing the chairs and vice-chairs of committees of council
- Proposing the municipal budget, which would be subject to council amendments and a separate head of council veto and council override process
- Vetoing certain by-laws if the head of council is of the opinion that all or part of the by-law could potentially interfere with a provincial priority
- Bringing forward matters for council consideration if the head of council is of the opinion that considering the matter could potentially advance a provincial priority
“Ontario’s Big City Mayors back the province’s goal of building 1.5 million homes by 2031, and all of our members have accepted their housing pledge in support of that target,” said Marianne Meed Ward, Chair of OBCM and Mayor of Burlington. “Different communities require different tools and approaches to address local housing needs, and strong mayor powers are one such tool that can help mayors and municipalities meet their housing targets. We’re committed to continue working with the province to build the homes our residents need.”
“Today’s announcement by the provincial government providing strong mayor powers for Ontario’s largest and fastest-growing cities comes at a time when mayors need every tool to advance work on housing pledges and meet new challenges,” said Cam Guthrie, Mayor of Guelph and past chair of OBCM. “Although strong mayor powers may not be required in all contexts to reach our collective housing goals, our citizens expect results – and tools such as this can help us achieve them.”
While some Mayors were pleased with the news, the NDP voiced their concerns after the announcement by Minister Clark.
“The Conservatives are weakening local government and the ability of local elected officials to serve their residents,” said MPP Jeff Burch, NDP critic for Municipal Affairs. “They are ignoring the reality of the housing crisis and using it to push through an agenda that benefits Ford’s friends and provides no actual solutions for Ontarians who are suffering. Instead of undermining local councils, Ford needs to take the time and listen to what people in Ontario actually want.”
MPP Jessica Bell, NDP Housing critic added, “Doug Ford and Steve Clark claim this is about building more housing, but they can’t be trusted. This is about Ford giving himself more power to compel municipalities to create expensive urban sprawl that will hurt real people and line the pockets of the Premier’s developer friends. Ontarians want to build a life in the communities they love, with affordable housing, real rent control, and functioning transit. This government’s out-of-touch approach to housing has failed Ontarians. We need a government that’s focused on delivering actual solutions to make that happen.”
Mike Schreiner, Guelph MPP and leader of the Green Party of Ontario, also addressed the announcement.
“Let’s be clear. Doug Ford’s attack on local democracy is not a solution to Ontario’s housing crisis. It wasn’t when these so-called strong mayor powers were first floated last year, and it isn’t now. If this government wants to solve the housing crisis, it should try using some of the countless tools at its disposal to increase housing supply without increasing sprawl,” said Schreiner. “Tools like the ones Ontario Greens have long championed – ending exclusionary zoning so we can actually build homes people can afford in the communities where they want to live. Strong local governments are built on a diversity of viewpoints that represent the people they serve. Undermining local democracy takes us in the wrong direction. Concentrating power in the mayor’s office and ushering in minority rule will not solve the housing crisis.”